When Kids Are Ready for Contact Lenses

In our May issue, we talk to two optometrists about their opinions on fitting children with contact lenses, and their strategies for do so. They had a lot to share, so continue reading for bonus tips on when and how to introduce kids to contact lens where.
The doctors:
 Kimberly K. Friedman, O.D.
Moorestown Eye Associates
Moorestown, NJ
Jeffrey Walline, O.D.
Associate Dean for Research
Ohio State University College of Optometry
EB: At what age do you feel the average child is ready for the responsibility of wearing contacts?
Dr. Walline: “I taught the parents of a four-year old child to insert and remove her contact lenses, but when they returned a week later, she was doing it on her own. Of course, a child that age requires reminders to appropriately care for the contact lenses, but occasionally children that young can care for their own lenses. With young children, contact lens care typically becomes part of the bedtime routine, and they are very good at that.”
Dr. Friedman: “I’m not sure that there really is that one perfect age when a child is ready for contact lenses. Studies have shown that physiologically even extremely young children can successfully wear contact lenses.”
EB: How do you determine if the child is ready?
Dr. Walline: “I assume that every child is ready. The child has to prove to me that he or she is NOT ready. Children often believe that anything in the eye will hurt, so they frequently do not want to wear contact lenses initially. We try to put contact lenses in their eyes, then assess their motivation. Often, children who are initially hesitant about contact lens wear become strong advocates for contact lenses.”
Dr. Friedman: “I ask questions like, ‘Do you remember to brush your teeth without being reminded?’ And of course, the parents’ opinion is key since they are the ones that really know their child.”
EB: Do you also judge by the parents—if they seem willing to follow up and help the child care for their eyes and lenses?
Dr. Walline: “The mother is key. Caring mothers will remind the child about appropriate care and bring the child to well visits. Unfortunately, too many mothers don’t allow their children the independence to learn to remove their contact lenses, which makes it very difficult if they run into trouble away from home.”
Dr. Friedman: “I consider whether they seem willing to follow up and help the child care for their eyes and lenses. However, I do feel that contact lenses are a personal responsibility and except in the case of medical necessity, if you can’t take care of the contacts yourself, you aren’t ready.”
EB: Do you suggest contacts for PT sports wear in younger children? 
Dr. Walline: “Studies have shown that children feel like better athletes when wearing contact lenses, and they like participating in recreational activities when wearing contact lenses than when wearing glasses. Contact lenses are also less likely to fall off or fog and provide better side vision. Daily disposable contact lenses are perfect for part-time wear because a fresh pair is worn every time contact lenses are inserted.”
Dr. Friedman: “We often utilize single use or daily contact lenses as a great option for active young athletes.”
EB: Do you have one tip to share about contacts and kids?
Dr. Walline: “Tell parents and children about the option of contact lenses for wear and/or myopia control. Many parents assume that children can’t wear contact lenses until 13 years of age, but, especially with the advent of daily disposable contact lenses, at least letting them know that there are options other than glasses provides appropriate informed consent about the options available.”
Dr. Friedman: “When I diagnose someone with myopia for the very first time - even if they are very young- I will say to the child and the parent. ‘Your prescription will be able to be corrected with contact lenses someday when you are ready.’”