You might think your child’s glasses are adorable, but she could very well disagree. Is your child ready for contact lenses though? In honor of Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, we chatted with Dr. Sidney Weiss, a CHOC ophthalmologist, about how parents can find out.
With the advent of low-maintenance contact lenses that are replaced daily, children as young as 8 might be able to wear lenses, Dr. Weiss says. Children ages 12 and older are better equipped to wear and maintain contact lenses designed to last for two weeks or a month, though he still recommends one-day lenses for children this age.
But age isn’t the first criteria for knowing a child is ready for contacts. Most importantly, the child needs to show enthusiasm for wearing them, Dr. Weiss says. Along with that, children must understand that contact lenses require responsibility and rigorous hygiene.
“Children must have the cognitive ability to understand that wearing contact lenses imposes a serious responsibility to protect the health of the eye,” Dr. Weiss says.
Hygiene is Key
Parents must be able to judge a child’s ability to maintain good personal hygiene, which is key to ensuring safe contact use. Users must be vigilant about washing hands before inserting, removing or simply adjusting contact lenses.
Poor hygiene and improper lens handling pose several risks to users, Dr. Weiss says.
“Corneal infections are the prominent threat to children wearing contact lenses,” he says. “Even with proper hygiene and technique, infections can and do occur. Far less common are fungal and even more exotic sources of infections.”
A scratch on the cornea can result during insertion or removal; if a foreign object gets between the lens and the cornea; or if a child too vigorously rubs his or her eye, Dr. Weiss says.
“The most common signs of trouble are the presence of a red eye or the observation of a white spot on the affected cornea,” he says. “Symptoms of pain, light sensitivity, and decreased vision are common. These should alert the child and family to seek professional help.”
In addition to frequent hand washing, contact lens wearers must use proper materials to clean and store the lenses. Never use water or saliva to clean a lens. If the child uses eye drops, only use clear drops rather than any product that appears milky. Swimming in contact lenses is discouraged, but if undertaken, lenses should be removed and thrown out afterward. Don’t share lenses with others and don’t sleep in lenses.
In addition to good hygiene, children must have basic small motor skills to wear contacts. Though Dr. Weiss says parents can assist children in inserting the lenses, the child must be able to remove them in case of an emergency.
Parents should supervise insertion and removal for at least several months after a child begins to wear contacts. Following hand washing, a basic insertion technique requires the child to look up, pull the lower eye lid down and forward, and place the lens onto the eye with the other hand. Removal also begins with hand washing, and essentially requires a pinching motion to pluck the lens from the eye.
Even with enthusiasm and good hygiene and motor skills, some children may still not be ready for contacts, especially if they have astigmatism. Astigmatism is a defect in the curve of the eye that creates a football-like shape and can be harder to fit for contacts.
“The common spherical contact lenses available do not correct astigmatism,” Dr. Weiss says. “This circumstance may lead to disappointing vision in these children as opposed to their vision when wearing glasses, and consequent failure. Astigmatism-correcting contact lenses are more expensive and hard to fit well, and are best fit on older children and adults.”
Astigmatism or not, proper fit is crucial for contacts. That’s why all appointments with ophthalmologists or optometrists must be kept and repeated on a timely basis, and children should not procure lenses from non-professionals, Dr. Weiss says.