Body Wise

Contact Lenses:
Right for Your Child?

by Rachel Ross

The optometrist says your child needs corrective lenses. She expresses a strong preference for contact lenses. But are they the right choice for her? When asked what parents should know when considering contacts, here’s what
regional experts say.

Types of Contact Lenses

Soft contact lenses are the thinnest lenses available, provide more comfort and come in disposable and extended-wear forms.

Rigid gas permeable lenses are harder, allow more oxygen to reach the eye, don’t need to be replaced as frequent-ly as soft lenses and sometimes provide better vision correction than soft lenses.

Hybrid contact lenses combine a gas permeable inner area with a soft outer ring. They provide the vision correction of gas permeable lenses and the comfort of soft lenses.

Gas permeable and hybrid lenses are not available in disposable form.

Pros and Cons of Contacts
Tracey Marshall-Underwood, OD, an optometrist in Dover, DE, says the advantages of contact lenses include a potential increase in self-esteem for kids and better treatment of certain vision problems, such as nearsightedness and keratoconus, a gradually thinning of the cornea.

Contact lenses also help young athletes because they decrease risk of injury relative to eyeglasses and enhance sports performance by improving side vision and depth perception.

The disadvantages of contacts include a greater chance for eye infections and eye health issues compared to glasses. “It’s a whole host of things,” says Dr. Marshall-Underwood.

She says if contact lenses are not taken care of properly, their use can lead to serious vision and eye problems. These problems include dry eye, fluctuating vision and potential problems with general eye health.

Robin Sapossnek, OD, an optometrist in Huntingdon Valley, PA, says daily disposable lenses, a form of soft contact lenses, are easier for kids because they are worn only one day. Children do not have to worry about keeping them clean or tearing them. After the lenses are taken out, they are thrown away and this lessens the chance for infection.

Corneal Refractive Therapy
Dr. Sapossnek says a relatively new contact lens technology, Corneal Refractive Therapy (CRT), treats nearsightedness at night by reshaping the cornea. Kids wear gas permeable CRT lenses while sleeping. “It makes it easier because the parent can put them in and take them out,” Dr. Sapossnek says.

During the day, children must wear a different set of temporary lenses until their vision improves. Optimum vision can typically be achieved within two to three weeks with continued use. The improved vision is not permanent, and children must continue to wear the lenses at night to retain the improvement.

Quick Facts

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports vision disorders are the fourth most common disability among American children, and recommends children have their vision checked each year starting at age 5.
• The American Optometric Association reports more than 3 million contact lens wearers are 18 years old and younger.

Signs of vision problems at any age include persistent eye pain, itching or discomfort, redness in either eye that doesn’t go away after a few days and excessive rubbing or squinting of the eyes.

Some common vision problems corrective lenses treat are nearsightedness, or myopia; farsightedness, or hyperopia; and astigmatism, an irregularly shaped cornea that can cause distorted or blurred vision.

Cost of Contact Lenses
The cost of contact lenses varies by the type of contacts chosen. Cost can range from about $96 to nearly $1,000 a year.

Soft contact lenses come in several forms, including daily disposables, two-week disposables and monthly wear.

Daily disposable contact lenses tend to be the most expensive because they must be replaced every day. Eight boxes, a year’s supply, can cost between $280 and $440. Two-week disposable contact lenses are slightly more affordable, costing between $144 and $280 for a year’s supply.

Monthly disposable contact lenses are the most affordable because they are worn for an entire month, says Marshall-Underwood. A year’s supply can cost between $96 and $180.

Toric lenses, another form of soft contact lenses used for correcting astigmatism, typically cost more than regular contact lenses. For two-week disposable toric lenses, a year’s supply may cost between $280 and $440. For the monthly disposable version of these lenses, a year’s supply may cost between $140 and $260.

Special lenses, such as the hybrid contact lens and gas permeable CRT lens, are more expensive, costing up to $1,000 a year. Individual lenses are purchased once or twice a year. Some health insurance policies cover part or all of the cost of contact lenses.

Contact lens cleaning solution and cases may also need to be replaced, adding $55-$160 to the yearly cost of contacts. Children should have a pair of eyeglasses in case of emergencies, also adding to the cost of contacts.

When Are Kids Ready for Contacts?
Though children as young as a few months old can be fit with contact lenses, Dr. Sapossnek says whether kids are ready for contact lenses depends on their maturity. Drs. Marshall-Underwood and Sapossnek say their youngest patients who wear contacts are age 8.

Dr. Sapossnek says a child is probably ready for contact lenses if he:

Asks for them
Has good hygiene habits
Keeps his room clean
Remembers to do household chores without being told
Is responsible about taking care of the family pet
Follows through on school assignments and projects.

Follow-up care is important, says Dr. Sapossneck, to make sure the lenses are working correctly and the child is handling them properly.

Dr. Marshall-Underwood says children must learn to have an extra contact lens case and solution handy. She says contacts should never be put in the mouth and they should never be shared, which could lead to fungal infection.

Rachel Ross is a MetroKids editorial intern.