Contact lenses can be successfully fitted to children and young people from an early age. For medical reasons, this could be as early as 2 or 3 years old. There is no need to wait until the eyes stop changing and there is good sense in letting children get used to contact lenses soon after they begin to need glasses.
Contact Lenses in Pediatrics
A three-month study included 10 nearsighted children who wore daily disposable contact lenses. By the end of the study, nine of the children had little to no problems with handling the lenses.
"Many parents don’t realize that their 8 year old child can handle the responsibility of contact lenses, so they don’t think to ask," said Jeffrey Walline. Jeffrey Walline is the study’s lead author and a research scientist in optometry at Ohio State University. "But the children in our study wore contacts without relying on their parents to put them in and take them out."
"Daily disposable lenses eliminate the need for cleaning and disinfecting, which improves compliance," Walline said. "Wearing this kind of contact lens forces a child to learn to apply and remove her lenses."
Most cases of nearsightedness, or myopia, develop between the ages of 8 and 16.
"Many children are told that they can’t wear contacts until they turn 12 or 13," Walline said. "But we already know that younger myopic children can wear rigid gas-permeable or soft contact lenses."
The main reason optometrists don’t recommend contact lenses for children younger than 12 is that they think children aren’t yet responsible enough to care for their contacts, Walline said. But other studies show that 8 to 11 year olds can apply and remove contact lenses without parental supervision.
Although this study included only 10 participants, Walline is confident that many nearsighted children would do well with daily disposable lenses.
The findings appeared in a recent issue of the journal of Optometry and Vision Science. Walline conducted the study with Ohio State colleagues Stacy Long, a program coordinator in optometry, and Karla Zadnik, a professor of optometry and vision science.
For routine correction of vision, children can be very successful as young as 6 or 7, although 10 to 12 years is a more usual age to consider fitting. The appropriate age for lens fitting, however, must be determined on an individual basis, with input from the parent, child, and practitioner. The following criteria should apply:
- Spectacles need to be worn all of the time
- The child wants to wear contact lenses or is reluctant to use glasses.
- Parents are happy for the child to have contact lenses.
- The child is old enough to understand the handling, maintenance and hygienic aspects of contact lens wear.
The above criteria is assisted if parents wear contact lenses as an example and help with the handling and general supervision. Ideally, children should be able to insert and remove their own lenses from the beginning or fairly soon after fitting. Most children will probably prefer soft and daily disposables lenses with which to start because there are no concerns about damage or loss and they are ideal for sports.
Children with long sighted eyes almost invariably find soft contact lenses considerably more comfortable. For children that are nearsighted hard gas-permeable contact lenses are still a possible first choice because they may slow down any increase in prescription. There is now evidence that children fitted with gas-permeable lenses are more likely to develop less myopia (nearsightedness) than if they wore soft contact lenses or glasses.