While many kids and teens that have to wear eyeglasses would like to switch to soft contact lenses, their parents may be wondering if they are safe for these age groups. The short answer is yes, according to a new review.
"In the past decade, there has been increasing interest in fitting children with contact lenses," said review author Mark Bullimore, an adjunct professor at the University of Houston College of Optometry.
He reviewed nine studies that included 7- to 19-year-olds who use soft contact lenses, to gauge the risk of corneal inflammation and infection. Called "corneal infiltrative events," these are usually mild, but about 5 percent involve a serious infection called microbial keratitis.
The studies revealed that children wearing contact lenses, typically, experience reactions similar to adults. In fact, one large study showed that events in younger children (8 to 12) were much lower than in teenagers from 13 to 17 years of age.
Also, researchers found that microbial keratitis was uncommon. One study actually found no cases in younger kids, and the teen rates of infection were the same as adults.
The difference may be attributed to the daily living habits of the age groups. It's suspected that younger kids aren't showering or napping while wearing their contact lenses as often as teens do. Those behaviors increase the risk of corneal infiltrative events, Bullimore said.
Bullimore believes the findings should reassure parents about the safety of soft contacts for children and teens. They may improve young people's self-esteem and quality of life, and have been shown to prevent or slow progression of nearsightedness in children, he said.
"The overall picture is that the incidence of corneal infiltrative events in children is no higher than in adults, and in the youngest age range ... it may be markedly lower," Bullimore wrote in the review.
Parents can help kids avoid eye infections by supervising their youngster’s cleaning and wearing habits when using contact lenses, Bullimore added.
Soft contacts are now available with no age restrictions. Parents should talk with their child’s optician or optometrist for more information on transitioning from glasses to soft contacts.
The study was published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science.