Contact lenses for children and teens

More than 3.7m 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 average age at which children are first fitted with contact lenses is currently 13 years although studies have shown that even young children can be very successful in wearing, handling and looking after contact lenses.

Contact lenses also have a very high satisfaction rate among young wearers, rated as high as 97 per cent among eight to 12-year-olds and 99 per cent among 13 to 17 year olds. Both groups benefit from significant improvements in their quality of life.

The advantages of contact lenses over glasses are well recognised but among the additional advantages for teens and children are:
• Better vision 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 and new soft lenses specifically designed to 'control' myopia. These approaches, and the size of the effect, need to be supported by large-scale, long-term studies.

Ask your eyecare practitioner for advice on your child's eyesight and the best form of vision correction throughout life.