If you wear glasses, you know they come with challenges. Between lenses that fog up and frames that slide or uncomfortable nose pads, it can be downright inconvenient. Ditto for active kids who wear glasses. But are contacts a better choice for children? “Contacts may be an option for kids who are mature enough to handle the responsibility,” says Brenda Pagan-Duran, MD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology in private practice at Westwood Ophthalmology Associates. “But there’s a greater risk of eye infection with contacts, so kids must be able to care for them, such as putting them in and taking them out, in a healthy way.” Here’s what else to consider:
WHEN CAN KIDS GET CONTACTS?
Your child’s eye doctor will evaluate your child and do a contact lens fitting and follow up exam before prescribing. “In general, we don’t usually prescribe contacts for kids younger than about 12 years old,” says Rudolph Wagner, MD, clinical professor of ophthalmology and director of pediatric ophthalmology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “But we evaluate each child individually to see if they can handle the care requirements because they have to do these things, such as cleaning lenses, themselves.”
The bottom line is you know your kids best. Some teens or preteens may be ready, while other kids are disciplined enough to handle the responsibility by age 10, says Pagan-Duran. Because there are circumstances when contacts are more convenient—such as for kids who participate in dance or sports or even while wearing masks because of lenses fogging up—it’s worth having a discussion with your child and their doctor. Just be aware that contacts often aren’t covered by insurance unless you have a separate vision plan and many of those cover glasses or contacts, not both.
ARE GLASSES SOMETIMES A BETTER CHOICE?
There are a few times when glasses may be a better option, such as if your child has certain medical issues like amblyopia, where vision in an eye doesn’t develop properly during childhood. If your kid has severe allergies and itchy eyes, contacts may not feel comfortable, though those symptoms often can be managed, says Wagner.
Contacts should never be worn for some activities, such as swimming or using a hot tub, because the risk of infection increases, says Pagan-Duran. It’s also important to understand your child’s wishes and personality. For example, if your child is comfortable with glasses, don’t push contacts. Simply put, kids need to be invested in the decision since the responsibility for care is theirs. If your child doesn’t seem ready, it’s a good idea to wait and re-evaluate in a year, says Pagan-Duran.
MAKE SURE THEY FOLLOW THE RULES
Once your child has been prescribed contacts, it’s important they follow the recommended care guidelines to reduce the risk of infection or damage to the cornea. In many cases, kids are prescribed disposable daily wear contacts. Some doctors will prescribe bi-weekly contacts that need to be cleaned and disinfected every day. No matter what they’re prescribed, make sure kids don’t skimp on care: They need to wash their hands before putting contacts in and taking them out, and they should never sleep in them, says Pagan-Duran. Kids should also know to remove contacts if their eyes feel red, painful, watery or sensitive to light.
GETTING USED TO CONTACTS
Most doctors require kids to wear contacts for a week and demonstrate they can proficiently put them in and take them out on their own at the doctor’s office. Some kids will pick this up quickly while others will need more practice. Talk to your doctor about YouTube tutorials that offer tips on how to handle contacts. Make sure to prescreen the videos first. Remind your kids to keep their hands clean and be patient as they get used to wearing contacts. And encourage them to wear their glasses on nights and weekends (or whenever possible) to give their eyes a rest.
KEEP UP WITH SCREENINGS
Make sure your child is seen on a regular basis, says Wagner. Generally, that’s once a year for screenings, but call your eye care professional if your child is complaining about itchy eyes or discomfort with contacts. “We’ve actually seen a lot more cases of dry eye in kids this year than ever before, probably due to increased screen time and remote learning,” says Wagner. Lubricating drops can help if a child is having issues with discomfort; ask your eye doctor for a recommendation because some types of drops cannot be used with contacts.
—Arricca Elin SanSone is a New York-based health and lifestyle writer.