One out of three kids between the ages of 6 and 17 needs corrective lenses, and an increasing number of them wear contacts. While contact lenses are almost always appropriate for motivated teens, some optometrists don’t prescribe them for kids younger than age 8 — so those children usually start with glasses. During the tween years, choosing vision correction is more individual.
There is no right age to make the transition from glasses to contacts. Motivation is the most important factor.
“The first question I ask is who wants to switch to contacts,” says Dr. Scott Pycraft, of Pycraft Family Eye Care in Wooster. “If it’s a parent or coach, we’re less likely to have a smooth transition.”
Safe and hygienic care of contacts requires daily follow-through on the child’s part, so it’s important to establish that the child is willing to learn the routine and practice it consistently.
While contact lenses aren’t appropriate for everyone, they can offer a number of advantages. Kids who are self-conscious about their appearance get a boost in self-esteem when they transition to contacts for daytime wear. Those who are active in sports can gain some athletic advantage from the improved vision and safety contacts can offer. Contact lenses provide better peripheral vision, allowing the user to wear other protective eyewear, and don’t pose the risk of flying off or breaking during intense moments in a game or activity.
If a child does lose a contact, it’s much cheaper and easier to replace than broken eyeglass frames. And for near-sighted kids whose vision is worsening rapidly, certain kinds of contacts can change the shape of the cornea, allowing for better vision with milder correction as the child grows into adulthood.
However, for kids with seasonal allergies, symptoms can be more uncomfortable with contact lenses; sometimes the allergies need to be addressed first with over-the-counter medications before contacts are a good option again.
Is Your Child Ready for Contacts?
When considering contacts for a tween, the second question Pycraft asks is, “How does the kid’s room look?”
Following a care routine for contacts is more complicated than putting on a pair of glasses, so kids need to be mature enough to handle the responsibility, and parents can glean clues about a child’s maturity level by observing how household chores and schoolwork are handled.
A good care routine for contact lenses is based on consistency and cleanliness: always wash hands before handling contacts, use only the products recommended by your optometrist, and follow the optometrist’s specific instructions for care.
Pycraft says most infections are caused by poor hygiene. There is more potential for an infection with extended-wear lenses, so daily disposables are most often prescribed for kids.
Life with contacts is trouble-free for most wearers, but some do experience infections or abrasions. Awareness can be important. Pay attention to any changes, and never put a lens in an eye that shows signs of a problem, such as redness, burning or itching.
The transition to contacts needn’t be an all-or-nothing decision, either. Many kids wear both contacts and glasses, depending on what they may be doing on a particular day. And when contact lenses just won’t work for a particular child, the range of choices for frames is better and more stylish than ever before.
As Pycraft points out, “Harry Potter helped make glasses feel better for some kids.”