When Are Kids Ready For Contacts?

When Are Kids Ready For Contacts?

by Dr. Ranit Mishori
published: 10/18/2009
If a child who wears glasses asks for contact lenses—perhaps for the not-uncommon reason that he or she doesn’t like the look of spectacles—it may not be a bad idea to give in.

According to a recent report by researchers at Ohio State University and the University of North Carolina, kids who wear contacts not only get their vision corrected, they also tend to feel better about themselves.

Eye-care tips for every situation

The study followed more than 480 nearsighted children, aged 8 to 11, for three years. The kids in one group were provided with contact lenses, while those in another group received glasses. The contacts users had higher satisfaction scores related to “physical appearance, athletic competence, and social acceptance.”

In particular, girls who wore contact lenses received a boost in overall self-esteem.

The study—which was funded in part by makers of contact lenses—won’t surprise many kids or grown-ups who’ve ever had to wear glasses. But the findings do raise the question of the right age to start lenses. Parents ask me: When can my child begin using contacts? The answer: It depends on the child, and 8 years old is not necessarily too young.

“When necessary, children at any age can wear contact lenses,” says Dr. Dominick Maino, a professor of pediatric optometry at the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago. Contact lenses require some work on the part of the patient—keeping them clean, storing them correctly, inserting them gently. So chronological age is less important in making this decision than motivation and maturity.

Girls may be ready at a younger age than boys. Says Dr. Maino: “I usually tell parents that when boys start to notice girls, and when girls can keep their rooms clean, they may be ready for contact lenses.” Some kids are able to use them properly with parental supervision and help.

But Dr. Maino also cautions, “Parents should not push their child to wear contact lenses. It must be the child’s idea. They must be motivated to wear them.”

Contact lenses are not without risks, of course. Kids should not wear them while swimming or in dusty, dirty environments. They should not share them with their friends. For sports and similar activities, they may need to wear protective goggles over their contacts.
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