Contact lens wearers are younger on average than non-contact lens wearers. Teens and college age persons (those 15 to 25 years of age) have been associated with lower contact lens compliance and with higher risk for corneal inflammatory events, a category of eye problems that includes serious eye infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get this high resolution graphic on Flickr.
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These days, eyeglasses can look pretty cool. Still, the day may come when your son or daughter asks you for contact lenses.
There are pros to consider—and cons.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates contact lenses and certain contact lens care products as medical devices. Contact lenses have benefits, says Bernard P. Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed., an FDA optometrist in the agency’s Contact Lens and Retinal Devices Branch.
”They can be better for sports activities, because they don’t break as frames and the lenses of glasses can. And they provide better peripheral vision for sports, or driving, if your teen is of driving age,” Lepri explains. Moreover, in some cases, contact lenses improve the quality of vision in comparison to eyeglasses, especially when a child is very nearsighted, says Lepri.
“On the other hand, you have to remember that contact lenses are medical devices, not cosmetics,” Lepri says. “Like any medical device, contact lenses should be used only if they can be used safely and responsibly. And only under the supervision of your eye care professional.” Serious injury to the eye can result, particularly if the contact lenses are not removed at the first hint of a problem.
Kids and contact lenses are not always the best fit.
“Eye care professionals typically don’t recommend contacts for kids until they are 12 or 13, because the risks are often greater than the benefits for younger children,” Lepri says. ”But age isn’t the only issue. It’s also a question of maturity.”
Lepri suggests that parents who are considering contacts for their kids take a look at how well they handle other responsibilities, especially personal hygiene. “It takes vigilance on the part of the parents,” he says. “You need to constantly be looking over your child’s shoulder to make sure they are properly caring for their lenses.“
As many an eye care professional can attest, kids find all sorts of ways to be less than hygienic. Common, dangerous behaviors include wearing another child’s lens; using saliva to moisten a lens; and wearing decorative lenses purchased from flea markets, beauty supply stores, the Internet and other sources. These behaviors can result in injury.
In fact, according to a 2010 study published in Pediatrics, about 13,500 (or one-fourth) of the roughly more than 70,000 children who go to the emergency room each year for injuries and complications from medical devices are related to contact lenses. The problems from contact lenses include infections and eye abrasions—meaning that your eye can be bruised from contact lenses.
The reasons? Hygiene and responsibility. Or rather, Lepri says, the lack thereof. He adds that it’s essential for all people who wear contact lenses to follow their eye care professional’s advice “to the letter.” That means observing all hygienic precautions.
Even lenses without corrective power, such as decorative or so-called “colored” or “costume” contact lenses, are still medical devices and have all the risks other contact lenses do, says Lepri. “Never buy decorative/costume contact lenses without a prescription from your eye doctor,” he adds.
If considering contact lenses, your child should be able to follow the following safety tips.
- Always wash your hands before cleaning or inserting lenses, and carefully dry your hands with a clean, lint-free cloth.
- Rub, rinse, clean and disinfect your contact lenses as directed and only with the products and solutions recommended by your eye care professional.
- Never expose your contact lenses to any kind of water or saliva.
- Do not wear your lenses for longer than the prescribed wearing schedule. This means that you should not sleep in lenses that were not prescribed to be worn this way.
- Never wear someone else’s lenses.
- Always have a prescription for any lenses you wear.
- When playing sports, wear safety goggles or glasses over your lenses.
- In general, always have a pair of back-up glasses handy.
- Never put a contact lens into an eye that is red.
- Don’t ignore eye itching, burning, irritation or redness that could signal potentially dangerous infection. Remove the lenses and contact your eye care professional. Apply cosmetics after inserting lenses, and remove your lenses before removing makeup.
Not taking the necessary safety precautions can result in ulcers (sores) of the cornea—which is the front of the eye that shields it from germs, dust, and other harmful material—and even blindness.
“Even an experienced lens wearer can scratch a cornea while putting in or taking out a lens,” Lepri notes.
Eye care professionals generally do not recommend extended wear lenses for kids and teens because they can increase the incidence of corneal ulcers, which can lead to permanent loss of vision.
Although they are a bit more expensive, daily disposable lenses can reduce some of the risks since the wearer is using a new pair of lenses every day.
In addition, children with seasonal allergies are usually not good candidates for wearing contact lenses. The lenses may only increase the itching and burning caused by their allergies.
You can talk with your child about the risks and responsibilities of wearing contact lenses and whether she or he is able to handle these responsibilities. Then talk with your eye care provider to determine if your child is a good candidate for wearing contact lenses.
This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on FDA-regulated products.
Updated: February 26, 2016