Eye Health Central

Children and Contact lenses: A Parent's Guide

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 consider before granting permission, and parental consent is required for children under the age of 16.

Professional Opinions Vary Greatly

Before allowing your child to wear contact lenses, you may wonder what age professionals believe is best. A survey administered by the American Optometric Association found that two out of three respondents fit children under eight with glasses only. For patients from ages eight to twelve, optometrists often prescribe glasses as the primary form of vision correction with contacts being a secondary method.

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. Whether or not a child is ready to wear them as a choice, however, depends on a child's sense of responsibility, willingness to learn, willingness to accept help and hygiene.

Issues Your Child Must Overcome

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 solution and alert you when the supply is running low. Your child will also need to be truthful enough to tell you if a lens has become stuck in their eye. If they've lost a lens or destroyed one, they also need to be truthful enough to admit it. Children must also be responsible enough to confess if their eyes are becoming itchy or irritated from lens wear. It might be helpful to think of getting contact lenses as getting your child a pet. Do you think s/he is 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. Rarely, this 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 contacts.
  • 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 the 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 to clean under their nails, contact lenses may not be the right fit 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.

Financial Considerations

While a new pair of glasses may run anywhere from $99 to $399 if your child has a routine prescription, daily contact lenses usually average out to a one or two dollars a day. Contacts meant for multiple wears can range from a dollar to three dollars a day, in general. Prices only escalate if your child has an unusual or very powerful prescription. Contact wearers, depending on their brand and wear schedule, may also need cases and cleaning solution. You'll also want to keep the cost of an optometrist visit in the budget at all times, just in case an eye emergency crops up.

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. 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 blinding light in outdoor sports. Contact lenses, however, 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 and "imperfect," 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 make lightly. You 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: Except for water sports - where there is 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: 11 Sep 2020