When Can Children Wear Contacts?

Many times the choice to switch from glasses to contact lenses comes at the request of a child. Either they are having a hard time playing sports with glasses, or they are tired of the way they look with frames always on their face. Either way, as a parent you may be skeptical about whether your child is ready for the responsibility. So, when can children wear contacts? You may be surprised at the answer: Even infants can successfully wear contact lenses when necessary.

When your individual child is ready for contacts depends on a variety of circumstances. The first thing to consider is whether the lenses are medically necessary. If that's the case and your child is young, you may find yourself taking care of placing, removing, and caring for the lenses for your child. However, if your child is school age or older and the contacts are more of a choice than a necessity, then you'll want to consider multiple factors before diving into contact lens wear and care for your child.

Why Children May Need Contacts

For many parents of children who want contacts, the children have one of the more common eye conditions, such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), or astigmatism (difficulty focusing). In these cases, the children usually start out wearing eye glasses to correct the problem; however, as they age they may become interested in contact lenses. Many times, this is simply a matter of the child's aesthetics.

In other cases, contacts are actually a medically needed intervention in order to maintain healthy eyesight. Here are a few reasons why contact lenses may be a better choice (or the only choice) for a child:

  • Congenital Cataracts — When an infant is born with congenital cataracts, the eye's natural lens typically must be surgically removed. When this happens, contacts are a necessity unless the child has an intraocular lens inserted during surgery. Without contacts, the child will not be able to develop normal vision. In these cases, parents must be trained in insertion and removal of the contacts, as well as how to properly handle and clean them.

  • Anisometropia — This is a condition in which each of the child's eyes have vastly different refractive powers. In some cases, one eye may be nearsighted while the other is farsighted. When the two eyes have such different abilities to focus, it can cause worsening problems that lead to one eye becoming effectively blind as the brain tries and fails to reconcile binocular vision. Without corrective lenses, the brain will begin to favor the vision input from only one eye. Contacts may be the preferred treatment over eye glasses when the lenses for glasses would be imbalanced because of greatly different prescriptions.

  • Sports — For children who play sports, contacts offer many advantages over glasses. Contacts don't fog up or get smudges the way glasses can, which means your child will have clearer vision while playing. Also, with contacts your child gets better peripheral vision, which glasses simply cannot offer. That's a big advantage in many sports. It's a benefit to you too, since contacts don't fall off and get broken. It's less expensive to replace a single contact lens than to replace an entire pair of glasses.

Knowing When Your Child is Ready

For those of you who have a child requesting contact lenses, either to make playing sports more convenient or to feel more comfortable with their appearance, you'll likely want to wait until your child is old enough to take care of the lenses alone. But, how do you know when your kid is ready for the responsibility? It really depends on the individual. Some children can handle the responsibility as young as 7 years. Others may not take the responsibility seriously even as teenagers.

In fact, school age children tend to be better at following contact lens care instructions than do teens who have other concerns on their mind. Teenagers who have a "What's the worst that could happen?" attitude may become lazy about cleaning their lenses, and this can cause serious eye infections that could lead to:

  • Corneal ulcers
  • Pain
  • Eye discharge
  • Blurry vision
  • Permanent blindness

In general, it's not the age of your child that matters in determining when they are ready for contacts. Instead, ask yourself these basic lens care questions to figure out if your child may be able to handle taking care of contacts:

  1. Will my child be able to insert and remove the lenses without my help?
    Although some children will need their parents to insert and remove contacts for them (such as in the case of infants and toddlers who require contacts for vision correction), you don't want to be stuck with this responsibility if your kid can just as easily put on a pair of glasses. Some kids may be squeamish about putting a finger in their eyes at first, but most get used to the process fairly quickly. You may want to ask your child's optometrist or ophthalmologist about a trial pair before committing to contacts.

  2. Can my child follow multi-step instructions?
    By school age, children should be able to hear a set of instructions with multiple steps and follow each action. Cleaning and storing contact lenses requires following the same procedures each time your child removes the lenses. This is very important for their eye hygiene and safety. Make sure your child is able to learn the process without leaving out any steps, to ensure vision safety.

  3. Does my child follow good hygiene and cleanliness practices in general?
    Eye infections are a serious concern for contact lens wearers. Your child must always wash hands before handling the contacts. This includes before putting them in and taking them out. Younger children who don't yet have good hand hygiene should probably wait before getting contacts. The risk of eye infection is too great and could lead to lasting vision problems. Dirty hands or improperly disinfected lenses lead the way for bacteria, viruses, fungus, and even parasites to enter the eye. On the other hand, a child who takes care of their other possessions and demonstrates responsibility by keeping a tidy room and completing homework on time is likely to be ready for the responsibility that comes with contacts.

In the end, the choice to wear contacts comes down to your child's individual situation. When your child requests contact lenses, make sure you go over the responsibilities and risks to see if they still feel ready. If you are or your child are still not sure about whether contacts are the right choice, you can watch this funny video about one girl's decision to wear contacts.

Related Questions

References:
allaboutvision.com
aao.org

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