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Are contact lenses safe for children?

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Why don't you see rugby or football players wearing glasses? The answer, as with other contact sports, is that players who need a form of eyesight correction wear contact lenses when participating in sport.

When you think about it, the wearing of contact lenses makes sense. Glasses can become dislodged and broken and, more worryingly, could cause an injury to the wearer or another player. Contact lenses are far safer whilst simultaneously enabling sports people to have an excellent visual perception of the playing area.

The question then arises, what about children? Could they safely wear contact lenses to enable them to participate in sports and other activities fully? It's a question that opticians regularly face, particularly in children diagnosed with myopia. Happily, the answer is yes; children can generally safely wear contact lenses.

One 2017 study revealed that children face no greater risk from wearing contact lenses than adults do. Interestingly, in 8-11-year-olds, the risk may even be lower than that faced by adults. [1]

The findings of that study have been supported by numerous other reviews, including one that reported that wearing contact lenses for six years did not affect participants' eye health.[2]

With that in mind, at what age can children start to wear contact lenses? A quick internet search reveals that some opticians and researchers typically see the age of eight as a good starting point. However, we have also noticed that myopia is starting to develop earlier, so could corrective contact lenses be deployed in even younger children?

Here again, the answer is yes.

An advice leaflet put out by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust comments that “In this clinic, our patients have ranged from six weeks premature at two days old, to a hundred and three years old!” [3]

However, the nature of the lenses used will depend on the condition being treated and the child's age, with the youngest children, potentially having specialist lenses which can be left in place for considerable periods.

Whilst, in general, contact lenses are therefore safe for children, there are a few caveats. Firstly, the general caveat for all lens wearers is that lenses should not be worn when swimming. So if your child's sport of choice is swimming, then a corrective swim goggle should be used in preference to contact lenses. Secondly, grubby hands and contact lenses don't go together very well, so parents should ensure that their children are fully aware of the need for good hand hygiene.

More interestingly, Ortho-K (ortho-keratology) is a special form of contact lens worn during sleep (also known as NIGHT LENSES). These help reshape the cornea (the front of the eye) so that the lenses can be removed on waking. During the day, the vision is clear and allows children to participate more in sports. Many studies have shown that children feel much more confident when they don't need glasses or contact lenses during the day. The added benefit of participating in more sports is greater outdoor time and healthier, happier children. Modern Ortho-K designs also help slow myopia's progress, so it's a win, win, win!

If you're a parent whose child has been diagnosed with myopia or if they are struggling with their distance vision, we hope you found MyopiaFocus helpful. Please join our community or sign our petition to get the government and NHS to recognise myopia as an ocular disease/severe ocular condition and fund myopia management for children.

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