Contacts for Kids: How Young is Too Young?

Optometrists report prescribing contact lenses to kids as young as 9 years of age

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Krzyzak
Krzyzak

If your glasses-wearing pre-teen begs for contact lenses, claiming “all my friends are getting them,” he may not be exaggerating. For years, optometrists have been prescribing contact lenses for pre-teens. Several factors play into the shift toward younger contact lenses use.

Earlier nearsightedness has driven down the age, according to Jane Beeman, president of the Minneapolis-based Contact Lens Society of America and contact lens specialist at the Flaum Eye Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center

“More children are getting more nearsighted at a younger age with every generation,” Beeman said. “The FDA is looking at why this is happening, but it begins this conversation at an earlier age.”

Of course, glasses help people see clearly; however, for children engaged in sports or physical activities, glasses can get in the way.

“For children or adults, glasses work well straight in front of you, but to see the periphery, you have to turn your head,” Beeman said. “I had a patient who’s a competitive skateboarder. For him, he sees great through his glasses, but he wanted to try lenses to see so much better glancing to left or right.”

Some children don’t like how glasses look on them, although the fad of wearing glasses as a fashion statement has diminished their numbers.

Cost has also influenced the age at which children switch to contact lenses. Beeman said that they’re not as expensive as glasses on a year-to-year basis. Streamlined care has also lowered the cost. Instead of two solutions plus enzymatic tablets, contact lens wearers use only one daily solution for cleaning lenses. Or, they can choose daily wear lenses.

“Parents love [daily wear lenses] because they don’t have to worry about their kids caring for them,” Beeman said. “They’re a little more pricey, but they’re pretty competitive.”

Gzik
Gzik

Beeman said that establishing good contact lens hygiene habits in pre-teens is sometimes easier than in teenagers.

“If the child really wants to give it a try and is committed, you have a much better chance it will work well,” Beeman said.

Children must acclimate themselves to the feeling of the lens in their eyes, and get over the urge to blink while inserting the lenses.

“Sports are a big factor,” said Mike Gzik, licensed optician and contact lens practitioner with New York Optometric in Syracuse. “When kids participate in sports, a lot of times, parents want to make sure they can wear helmets or play without glasses getting broken.”

Some patients want to wear their lenses only while participating in their activity and wear their glasses otherwise.

“With sports, contact lenses offer definitely better visual acuity,” Gzik said. “People feel they see better with contact lenses on.”

One-day disposable lenses eliminate the need to clean lenses. For children who may forget to clean lenses, this option can provide a way to go for contacts.

Richard Krzyzak, optometrist with Krzyzak Eyecare in Liverpool, said that the child’s maturity level affects his decision on fitting pre-teens.

He also shared that in general, “it is usually due to sports, dance or something where the glasses interfere,” Krzyzak said. “It’s usually not just cosmetic. If all the factors line up and the parents are behind them, it’s a lot easier.”

He has prescribed lenses to kids as young as 9 or 10 years old, which sometimes is actually easier than fitting teens because younger patients may be more compliant with how lenses are cleaned and handled. Patients being fitted for contact lenses may not leave the office unless they can put them in and take them out.

Krzyzak pretty much prescribes only daily wear lenses. Otherwise, contact lenses must be removed before sleeping, cleaned properly and replaced on schedule.

Patients must commit themselves to washing their hands thoroughly before inserting or removing lenses and using only sterile disinfecting solution for cleaning.

Ultimately, the decision is up to the eye care provider since a pair of contact lenses is a prescription medical device.