November 5, 2010
Dear Mayo Clinic:
My 11-year-old son has worn glasses for three years, and he wants to get contact lenses. Is there a certain age that's generally considered appropriate for kids to get contacts? Are there any risks associated with children wearing contact lenses at his age?
There is no definite age that eye care professionals recommend before children can start wearing contact lenses. Nor are there risks specifically associated with children wearing contact contacts, beyond the usual risks that come with contact lens use. It is important, however, that your son be able to handle the responsibility of properly wearing and caring for contact lenses.
Contact lenses are a safe, reliable method for improving eyesight without glasses. They can be used to correct most vision problems, including nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism. A variety of lenses are available — hard, soft, extended wear, daily wear and specialized lenses, among others. An eye care professional can help you choose what's best for your son's situation.
No matter what type of contact lenses your son gets, all contacts reduce the amount of oxygen that can reach the eye's cornea, the clear, dome-shaped tissue on the front of the eye that covers the pupil and iris. This leads to the most significant risk associated with contact lens wear: the increased possibility of developing an eye infection.
To decrease this risk, it's very important that your son consistently cleans and cares for his lenses correctly. That starts with thoroughly washing his hands before he handles his contacts. Also, you should confirm that he knows how to properly clean and disinfect his lenses. You may want to walk him through the process the first few times to make sure he understands all the steps.
Talk to your eye care professional about the contact lens solution your son should use, and follow those recommendations. Never use homemade saline solution on contact lenses, and throw away any solution that looks discolored. Also, replace your son's contact lenses as recommended. Finally, your son should only wear his lenses for as long as is recommended, and he should never wear them when he sleeps. Sleeping with lenses in the eyes significantly increases the risk of eye infections.
As you consider whether contacts are right for your son, talk to him about what's required to care for them and his willingness to do what's needed to safely maintain his lenses. In addition, he will need to be able to put the lenses into his eyes and take them out by himself. Some people are uncomfortable with putting in and taking out contact lenses, and the process might not be easy at first. If he seems overly anxious about it, you may want to wait to get him contacts.
Keep in mind, too, that vision changes regularly for most children until they reach their early 20s. So your son will continue to need annual vision exams, and his contact lenses will need to be replaced as his prescription changes.
Generally, 11 years old is a reasonable age to start considering contact lenses. But it's an individual consideration that needs to take into account the child's level of responsibility and how motivated he is to have contacts. Some children are eager to be rid of glasses — particularly those who are active in sports or other activities where glasses may get in the way. Other children don't mind glasses and prefer not to have to deal with the care that comes with contact lenses.
Discuss these contact lens issues with your son. If you have questions, talk to your eye care professional for guidance. Then, use your parental discretion to decide if contact lenses are right for your son at this time.
— Amir Khan, M.D., Ophthalmology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.