Eye Health Central

Can children wear contact lenses?

Kids and Contact Lenses: A Parents Guide

Many parents and their children alike often ask whether or not contact lenses are an appropriate option for their vision correction needs. It's a complex issue that should be considered on a case by case basis, taking into account the needs and capabilities of each child. This is a big decision, as improper lens wearing can cause irritation, infections and even corneal scarring. If your child has expressed interest in wearing contact lenses, there are several aspects you need to consider before granting permission, as parental consent is required for children under the age of 16.

What Age Can A Child Wear Contact Lenses?

Physically, our eyes can tolerate contact lenses at a very young age. Congenital defects, such as cataracts or other eye disorders, can be treated with special contact lenses from infancy, but this is normally a medical decision and not worn for cosmetic reasons.

Children as young as 8 can often wear contact lenses very successfully, but whether an individual child is ready for contact lenses instead of glasses will depend on their ability to understand and follow instructions and take responsibility.

According the the British Contact Lens Association Contact lenses also have a very high satisfaction rate among young wearers, rated as high as 97 percent among 8 to 12-year-olds and 99 percent among 13 to 17-year-olds. Both groups benefit from significant improvements in their quality of life.

According to a recent study reported in Optometry Today and Science Direct, where children between the ages of 8 and 12 years of age were followed for a period of 6 years, during this time there were no serious adverse ocular events related to contact lens wear, in fact they found contact lenses

A child under the age of 16 cannot be fitted with contact lenses unless they have the permission of their consenting adult.

Can A Child Wear Contact Lenses?

Learning to insert and remove contact lenses is quite easy for children. In a study conducted with 8-11 year old children, 90 percent of them were able to master these skills during the first instructional session. With that said, wearing contact lenses daily will require other skills.

  • Responsibility. Your child will need to remove their contact lenses daily no matter how tired or distracted they may be. It's also important your child can manage their supply of lenses and solutions and alert you when the supply is running low. Your child will also need to be honest enough to tell you if a lens has become stuck in their eye, if they've lost a lens or destroyed one to admit it.
    Children must also be responsible enough to inform you if their eyes are becoming itchy or irritated from lens wear. It might be helpful to think of getting contact lenses a bit like getting your child a pet. Do you think they are ready for that responsibility? Obviously, only you could be the judge of that!
  • Willingness to learn. It's normal for some children to be afraid of putting their fingers in their eyes. A good candidate for contacts needs to be calm and willing to learn how to gently insert and remove the lenses. An ideal candidate will also need to be comfortable flushing the eye with solution, should a lens be hard to remove. A fearful or anxious child may not be suitable for contacts just yet.
  • Willingness to accept help. While it's not possible for a lens to get "lost" in the back of the eye, it is possible for a lens to fold and get lodged in the upper or lower eyelid, it's also possible for a lens to adhere tightly to the eye and be hard to remove, especially if the patient has fallen asleep with their lenses inserted. It is rare  "lost" contact lens requires a trip to the optometry office to have the lens removed, if your child is able to be calm and cooperative in a state of mild discomfort, the lens can be removed easily. If your child has tantrums or fights off adults' help, they're not ready to wear contact lenses just yet.
  • Hygiene. It's very difficult for an eye care professional to determine a child's level of personal responsibility in just a few moments during an eye exam. This is why it's so important for parents to take into consideration their son's or daughter's performance in other areas of life. If you're constantly reminding your child to shower, brush their teeth, comb their hair or clean under their nails, contact lenses may not be the right choice for your child just yet. Contact wearers need to have scrupulous hygiene to avoid irritation and infection. Monitoring things like how well they keep up with personal hygiene, whether or not they are clean and organized, and whether or not they are putting in full attention and effort in school and other responsibilities is a great way of predicting how well they will be able to handle wearing contact lenses.

What Are The Best Contact Lenses For A Child?

Daily contact lenses are by far the simplest and most hygienic option, especially for young people, they are replaced each day for a fresh clean pair so offer ultimate convenience with no worry about cleaning and storing the lenses.

Daily contact lenses usually average out to be around £1.00 to £1.50 per day. Monthly contact lenses meant for multiple wears can work out to be similar in cost once cleaning solutions are taken into account, but these require more looking after and if a lens is ripped or lost then the cost can be more expensive.
Daily contact lenses are also a great idea for children and teenagers who are very active in sports and maybe just want to wear contact lenses when on the field, pitch, or court.

A sight test for all children under 16 and those in full-time education up to the age of 18 if in full-time education is free under the NHS but you may also qualify for a voucher helping towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses, check the NHS criteria for optical vouchers on their site.

The Advantage of Wearing Contact Lenses as a Child

It's important to understand your child's reasons for requesting contact lenses. While it may be tempting to brush off their concerns over glasses, a lot of reasons children have for wanting contacts are quite valid.

Playing sports in glasses, even with impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses, can be risky, while the lenses may hold up to sudden impact, the frame may not. This can lead to wounds in and around the eyes should the frame break plus be expensive.
Glasses also do not correct peripheral vision, so everything around the edges of your child's vision may be blurred. If your child seems clumsy or unable to see very well in sports situations, this peripheral blur may be to blame. Lenses used in glasses also produce glare, making sunshine a possible blinding light in outdoor sports. 

Contact lenses, provide an unobstructed field of view, won't get scratched or damaged, and can be replaced much more easily if something happens to one of them during play. They won't cause any glare at all, and won't fog up or get dirt or sweat on them that will be difficult to clean properly in the middle of a game or match.

Self-esteem is another issue that may have an impact on a child who wears glasses. In the adult world, glasses are often seen as fashionable. To children, they are a sign of being different or geeky, making glasses wearers a target. It can also be problematic for a child to accept how they look in glasses, especially if they haven't worn vision correction in the past. Accepting a new appearance can be very difficult for some children. Contacts are nearly invisible and have no effect on appearance, allowing your child to be confident.

Deciding whether or not to allow your child to transition from glasses to contact lenses is a choice you shouldn't take lightly. Your child's readiness, your financial situation, and the reasons for your child's request should all be taken into consideration. Of course, speak to your Optometrist about any concerns or questions you may have.

Fiction or fact? Truths about contact lenses

FICTION: Kids are not "mature enough" for contacts.
FACT: Most eye care professionals agree that by age 13, even as early as age 11, most eyes are developed enough for contact lenses. An eye exam will confirm whether contacts can be worn by your child.

FICTION: Contact lenses fall out a lot.
FACT: They fell out more often when the only ones were hard lenses. Soft lenses conform to the shape of the eye, are larger in diameter and are tucked under the eyelids, so they usually don't move out of place or fall out. Plus, they're usually more stable than glasses, especially for sports.

FICTION: Contact lenses are expensive.
FACT: The price of contact lenses is comparable to that of an average pair of eyeglasses.

FICTION: Contact lenses are hard to care for.
FACT: Not at all. Today's lens care systems are quick and easy to use. Contacts can be ready to wear in just five minutes. Daily soft lenses are extremely easy to use and wear - simply throw them away every day and no messy solutions.

FICTION: Contact lenses are not safe to wear for sports.
FACT: Contact lenses are great for sports -  Except for water sports - where there is a risk of losing them and infection, contacts are very safe. They can't be broken or knocked off the face and they provide unobstructed peripheral vision.

The next step is to make an appointment for your teen or pre-teen with an eye care professional who can assess his or her ability to wear contacts. If the practitioner gives a thumbs-up, then let your child give contacts a try. Wearing them is the best way to see if contacts are the right choice. 

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 24 Apr 2015, Last modified: 15 Feb 2024