As an optometrist one of the questions I frequently get asked is “from what age can my child wear contact lenses?” There appears to be a widespread perception that contact lenses are unsuitable for young children.
The truth, however, is that there is no minimum age for contact lens wear. In fact, I often fit infants with lenses – this is usually indicated after a congenital cataract operation, with anisometropia (a significantly higher prescription in one eye compared to the other), or simply when the baby requires a prescription but cannot tolerate spectacles and constantly pulls them off.
The factor that requires consideration when opting for contact lenses is not age, but responsibility: who will be taking care of the lenses? If your child can take care of his/her own personal hygiene without prompting, they may be ready for the responsibility of correctly cleaning and storing their lenses. For very young children (under 6 years) it is preferable that the parent handles the insertion, removal and care of the lenses. With the advent of daily disposable contact lenses, lens care has become much simpler with lenses being discarded after daily wear rather than cleansed and stored.
Another consideration is the child’s motivation levels. If the child is the one asking to wear contact lenses they are more likely to be successful wearers than the case where a parent may be putting pressure on the child to try.
So what are the benefits kids can get from contact lens wear?
A recent study by the Ohio State College of Optometry showed that children wearing contact lenses felt significantly better about themselves compared to permanent spectacle wearers in three specific areas: athletic competence, social acceptance and physical appearance. The subjects in the study were between the ages of 8 and 11 years which is younger than traditionally thought to be an appropriate age for contact lens wear.
Contact lenses also provide better peripheral vision and this in addition to not having to worry about preventing spectacles from sliding around make them the ideal choice for sport.
Children who dislike their spectacles may remove them in class, therefore negatively impacting their schoolwork. By having a form of vision correction they don’t want to remove, they become more compliant in this regard.
Contact lenses give children tools to feel better about themselves socially, to do better in school and possibly even improve their performance in sports. It can be a life-changing experience for a child, therefore one well worth considering.
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