I started wearing glasses when I was around 12 years old. I either broke or lost them on a pretty regular basis. As time went on, I yearned for contact lenses. I was sure that they would solve my expensive misplaced glasses problem and thought I would just look better. Oh, and there were not any “cool” glasses for girls back then, only oval-shaped plastic wrapped, thick lens holders with odd little wings on the tips. They came in brown and black. Ugh.

At 16, I was finally able to get my first pair of contact lenses. I’ve probably had thousands of pairs since then. I truly understand why a child might want to swap a pair of glasses for contact lenses – but what’s the appropriate age to make that switch?

Many optometrists and pediatric ophthalmologists say it depends on the child’s maturity level. There are children as young as 8 years old that can wear contacts responsibly and teenagers that aren’t up to the task.

There are pros and cons concerning kids and contacts.

Some of the pros for wearing contacts are:

- They are usually better for sports.

- They provide a wider field of peripheral vision.

-  Frames aren’t slipping down your nose or breaking.

-  They can be used to correct most vision problems, including nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism.

- They don’t fog up causing blurred vision.

Some of the cons of wearing contacts are:

- All contacts reduce the amount of oxygen that can reach the eyes’ cornea.

- There is a higher risk of eye infection.

- Contacts require time and consistency to clean and handle properly.

- They can tear in the eye.

- They can be difficult to insert and remove.

Contact lenses are generally considered a safe and reliable method for improving eyesight without glasses. There are many types of lenses available and an eye care professional can help your child choose the appropriate lens for his or her lifestyle and vision.

The most important question for a parent to consider is “is my child responsible enough to wear contact lenses?” Your child must wash their hands before handling the lenses, take them out every night and put them in a cleaning and disinfecting solution. They must also be able to put them in and take them out by themselves.

One option for parents to consider is trying disposable lenses. Your child throws away the old ones and puts a new pair in every day. These are more expensive but easier to use. Many opticians also believe they are healthier for the eyes and offer better protection against eye infections.

Most children’s vision will continue to change as they grow older, so annual eye exams are still required to make sure your child’s eyesight is the best it can be.

There are a couple of other rules for contact wearing that a child must understand and practice.

- You never swap contacts with another person.

- You don’t put your contacts in your mouth to clean them.

- For girls, throw away out-of-date cosmetics such as mascara and eyeliner—contaminated makeup and contacts do not mix. Put on your makeup after putting in your contacts.

- You don’t sleep in your lenses.

There’s one other important note about contacts and kids. Every Halloween kids are tempted to buy and use specialty contacts as part of their costume particularly if a kid is already used to wearing lenses. If these lenses aren’t prescription lenses they can cause serious problems. They are often found at beauty stores, malls, flea markets and of course online. While they may be colorful or scary looking, these lenses do not have any quality assurance and are not fitted the same way as prescription lenses.

The FDA strongly warns that anyone using these lenses is at high risk for eye infection, injury, vision-loss, even blindness.

When determining if your child is ready for contacts, look at how well he or she handles other important responsibilities. Make an appointment with your eye-care professional so they can talk to your child about contacts and then give you feedback on whether they feel your child is ready.

Contacts have worked well for kids and adults for generations. If you believe your child is ready to make the switch – then go for it.

I have a pair of glasses I wear when my eyes are tired and when I wake up in the morning. Since I was 16, even with all the times my contacts have been a hassle (think windy-dusty days), I’ve never regretted making the decision to switch. One thing I have noticed though, those wing-tipped glasses are making a comeback but in lots of cute colors. Who would have thought? Definitely not me. Ugh. 

Sources: Kristen Danielson, MD http://health.yahoo.net/experts/healthykidshealthyfamily/contact-lenses-and-kids