When to consider contact lenses for kids

Ben Davis (14) of Phoenix.

By Vicki Louk Balint

The first time 14-year-old Ben Davis tried contact lenses, things didn’t go so well. His optometrist offered Ben the option when he was 12, after a routine exam and fitting for glasses and sports goggles. But Ben was clearly lukewarm about the prospect, recalls his mom, Judy Davis of Phoenix. As the lenses were placed in Ben’s eyes for the first time, Judy could tell they wouldn’t be leaving with contacts that day.

“His body language indicated strongly that he was not pleased,” she says.

Last summer, however, the subject came up again, shortly before an extended family vacation that involved driving across the country. Ben asked, “Mom, can I try contacts again?”

The most important factor determining success with contact lenses in a patient of any age is motivation, says Stephen Cohen, O.D., of Scottsdale. “If we have a child who has a desire to wear contacts, and a desire not to wear glasses, that’s a good starting point.”

Studies show that most children want to ditch their glasses for contacts for cosmetic reasons, he adds. For kids as young as 8 years old, research indicates that self-esteem improves when they wear contacts versus glasses.

Lynn Perkins, NCLE, a certified contact lens fitter at Contact Lens Lab, Inc. in Phoenix, says that motivation is often tied to the level of correction required. Thicker eyeglass lenses can magnify the eyes and change a child’s appearance, which can be distressing.

Perkins observes this first-hand when she participates in vision screenings at local middle schools. She finds that some students forgo the use of their glasses because they are self-conscious about the way they look.

“A good percentage are not wearing their glasses when they need to,” says Perkins. “Most of them learn to walk around in their blurry state because of vanity. It’s a self-esteem issue, and if their self-esteem is low, it can affect their grades. You need to be able to see in the classroom.”

Kids who play sports often want to switch to contacts because the peripheral vision limitations of glasses can affect athletic performance.

With glasses, “you can only see out as far as the frame goes,” says Cohen. Contacts can enhance a young athlete’s sports performance because “you don’t have any peripheral limitations.”

That’s one reason Ben decided to give contacts another chance.

“I didn’t really like wearing glasses while playing sports, especially in baseball,” he says. “In the night games they get foggy and it’s hard to see.”

There’s no magic age for trying contact lenses, says Perkins, who believes that finding a fitter who will spend time with a motivated child is key. Cohen says he’s found that preteens actually tend to do better than older kids because they are keen on following instructions and don’t have as many pre-conceived anxieties.

“The hormones haven’t hit yet,” he says. “I find the most successful group of kids are the 10- to 14-year-olds, although I fit kids as young as 6 or 7. There doesn’t have to be an age limitation if parents find this to be a viable option.”

For Ben, contacts turned out to be a good choice the second time around. He became more motivated to try them as more of his friends began wearing them last year. First he took advantage of a free trial pair to see how they worked. Now he uses daily-wear lenses, which he says help minimize possible irritation from his seasonal allergies.

Plus, he’s pretty happy when he looks in the mirror.

“I didn’t like the way glasses looked,” he says. “I thought it looked dorky. I wanted my normal face without any add-ons.”

What’s new in lenses

UV protection: Experts estimate that one-third of cataracts result from childhood exposure to ultra-violet rays. Some new contact lenses block UV rays the same way sunglasses do but without the tint or color of sunglass lenses.

Daily wear: Daily wear contact lenses can minimize the likelihood of infection from a contaminated case. The lenses cost about 50 percent more than lenses that are cleaned and stored overnight in a case, but the cost of buying wetting, soaking and cleaning solutions makes the actual difference in price marginal.

CRT: Corneal refractive therapy (CRT) uses a contact lens device like a retainer is used in orthodontia. These contacts reshape the eyes temporarily while the wearer sleeps. In the morning, the contacts are removed and the wearer can see clearly for the day.

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