Contact Lenses

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Contact Lenses for Children and Teens

More than 3.3 million people in the UK enjoy the many benefits of contact lenses but only a very small proportion of them are children.

Nearly one in five children aged five to 15 years, rising to almost one in three 16-19 year olds need vision correction yet only about one in 12 of those who could wear contact lenses currently do so. Many more children and teens would potentially benefit from contact lenses.

Interest in contact lenses starts at an early age and their use is widely suited to all age groups. The advantages of contact lenses over glasses are well recognised but among the additional advantages for teens and children are:

· Better vision and more convenient for sports and leisure activities where children often remove their glasses for fear of breaking them

· Improved appearance and social acceptance, especially with high levels of short sight (myopia) or long sight (hyperopia)

· Greater self-confidence, self-esteem and satisfaction

· Avoid frequent breakages of glasses

· Full-time vision correction – particularly important in children with squint, astigmatism and poor vision in one eye to ensure the eyes work properly together and to avoid a ‘lazy eye’

· Easily updated when eyesight is changing frequently

· Added protection from ultraviolet (UV) exposure with some lenses

· Some medical uses such as albinism (lack of pigment) and aniridia (absence of iris)

· Special indications for fitting to babies, usually under the hospital eye service


Another potential benefit currently under investigation is the ability of contact lenses to slow the progress of short sight (myopia) in children. Various approaches have recently been suggested including orthokeratology (see below) and new soft lenses which my help to ‘control’ myopia by correcting peripheral vision. These approaches, and the size of the effect, need to be supported by large-scale, long-term studies.

Types of contact lenses for teens and children

Each type of contact lens has its pros and cons for young wearers and the choice will depend on the child’s individual vision and lifestyle.

Rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lenses were traditionally the first choice as they’re easy to handle and look after and offer excellent vision, although they take time to adapt to and are more susceptible to displacement and irritation from dust.

Today, daily disposable soft lenses are more likely to be chosen, especially if the lenses are not worn every day. These lenses are simple and convenient to use, do not require solutions, and are more likely to be replaced as directed. They are a more expensive option than other lens types if worn every day but the cost per lens is low so they can be cost-effective, especially if a lens is occasionally lost. Used properly, the incidence of problems with daily disposables is very low. They also have advantages for allergy-suffering children.

Silicone hydrogel contact lenses are an excellent choice if teens and children want to wear contact lenses all day, every day. These lenses are healthier for longer wearing times as they provide much higher levels of oxygen to the eye than traditional soft lenses and are a good long-term option for these age groups.

Orthokeratology or ortho-K lenses (also known as corneal re-shaping or overnight vision correction) are RGP lenses designed to alter the shape of the cornea (the transparent front part of the eye) to temporarily reduce or eliminate the need for vision correction. These lenses are worn nightly or alternate nights and removed in the morning so they’re not worn during the day (see Orthokeratology). The incidence and prevalence of eye infections with these lenses is not known. It is also not known whether the risk of infection is greater for children than adults.