When can kids wear contact lenses?

Glasses can be a pain for active kids, but contact lenses bring a lot of responsibility. Optometrists explain how to determine what's best for your kid.

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If your kid’s glasses are getting in the way of their soccer game or if they’ve lost or broken too many frames to count, you might consider contact lenses. But is it a good idea to give contact lenses to kids? We asked optometrists what parents need to know before making the switch.

When are contact lenses a good idea for kids?

One of the primary reasons for kids to switch to contacts is to make it easier for them to be physically active, says Daniel Rayman, an optometrist with an interest in children’s vision who practices in Richmond Hill and Bolton, Ont. “Whether they’re active in sports or dance, having glasses on the face is inconvenient,” he says. Not only are glasses more likely to get banged up during a soccer game, but the frames can get in the way of a child’s peripheral vision. Kids who participate in sports and activities can switch to contacts every day, or just when they have games or practice.  Doctor looking into a baby’s eye3 common eye problems in kids: What you need to know

Some kids may also want to switch to contacts because they feel self-conscious in glasses, but Rayman says this is becoming less common, because so many funky frames are in style that many kids think it’s cool to wear glasses.

Contact lenses can also be a better option for some kids from a vision perspective. Christine Misener, an optometrist in Ancaster, Ont., says that contacts are a particularly good option for kids who have much worse vision in one eye than the other. “With glasses, when you have one lens that’s a lot stronger than the other, there can be some difference in image size between the two eyes that prevents the eyes from working well together as a team,” she explains. “It can be more comfortable and visually beneficial to consider contact lenses in that situation.”

When is a child ready for contact lenses?

Rayman says he starts prescribing contact lenses for kids starting around ages eight to 10, because that’s typically when kids have developed the dexterity and responsibility that’s needed to insert and remove contact lenses, and develop healthy habits around their eye health. Misener says there’s no minimum age when kids are ready, but they have to demonstrate that they practice good hygiene. She asks parents how good their child is at washing their hands and brushing their teeth every night, and whether they keep their room tidy. “The parent is the one who knows the personality and the responsibility of their child best,” she says. But she also finds out how badly the child wants contact lenses. “They’re the one who has to learn how to take them in and out of their eye and be comfortable with that stuff. All three parties—the optometrist, the parent and the child—everybody has to be on the same team, and everybody has to be motivated.”

Are all children eligible for contacts?

Aside from not being ready for the responsibility of contact lenses, some kids with certain eye diagnoses will not be candidates for contacts. For example, some people have abnormalities in the shape of their eye, or, if a child has an astigmatism, they might require hard reusable contact lenses, rather than disposable ones, which are usually too difficult for kids to care for, says Misener. Plus, some kids have anxiety about touching their eyes. In those cases, it’s best to stick to glasses.

What do parents need to know about giving kids contact lenses?

When an optometrist prescribes your child contact lenses, they’ll train your child the correct technique for inserting and removing them. Kids need to remember to wash their hands before touching their lenses or their eyes in order to prevent the spread of bacteria, and remember to take their contacts out before bed and insert fresh ones in the morning. While most optometrists would only recommend daily lenses for kids so there’s no bacteria from reuse and no messing around with cleaning solution, hygiene is still vitally important. “There’s a risk of eye infection if you don’t clean your hands properly, or if you over-wear your lenses,” says Misener.

Of course, parents can help with some of these daily tasks, but ultimately, the child needs to be confident enough to do it themselves in case, for instance, a lens falls out at school and they have to put in a new one. On that note, Misener suggests, kids should always be carrying an extra pair of lenses in their backpack. Plus, she requires patients to have a pair of glasses for backup at home. Since contacts are only worn during the daytime, kids will need those glasses to get to bed, if they wake up and have to go to the bathroom, or to help them get around first thing in the morning. “It’s important that any child who needs vision correction have vision correction all the time,” says Misener.

Are contacts more expensive than glasses?

Since your child still needs to have backup glasses on hand, you can expect that adding contacts will run you a bigger bill, but there are some benefits to contacts that could save you money. For one thing, if your kid is in sports where glasses are easily damaged, you won’t be replacing those nearly as often. Plus, Misener says a lot of kids have rapidly changing prescriptions as they’re growing, so ordering a three-month supply of contact lenses sometimes makes more sense than continually replacing glasses.

Read more:
The problem with toddlers and glasses
How to spot an issue with your child’s eye health

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