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When you spot these traits, it’s safe to make an appointment for a contact lens eye exam.
What’s not to love about contact lenses? They offer great peripheral vision and stay put during sports. Plus, for anyone who's self-conscious about wearing eyeglasses, contact lenses can help boost self-esteem.
But they come with risks, too, like irritation and infection. You can cut those risks for your preteen who’s been begging to get a contact lens eye exam by making sure they’re ready for the responsibility.
Certain clues can help you make that call, says David Cohen, O.D., an optometrist with Ocular Management Services inside America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Charlotte, N.C.
Of course, every child is different. But kids who successfully wear contact lenses share most of the traits below.
That said, keep in mind that “none of these things are the end of the conversation,” says Dr. Cohen. If you decide your preteen isn’t quite there yet, you can always revisit the question and schedule a contact lens eye exam in a few months or a year.
Did you know that kids with vision problems should get their eyes checked every year? Click here to find an exam time that fits your schedule.
Book a Contact Lens Eye Exam if: They Keep Their Room Clean
Most contact lens problems are linked to sloppy habits, says Dr. Cohen.
A 2010 FDA study in the journal Pediatrics found that nearly 25 percent of medical device–related visits to the ER were due to shoddy contact lens care, mainly among kids ages 11 and up. (Other research suggests that the risk of contact lens complications may actually be lower between the ages of 8 and 11, perhaps due to greater parent supervision.)
Kids need to be fully on board with the necessary upkeep outlined by the eye doctor. Taking shortcuts—like sleeping in them or thinking tap water can be subbed for disinfecting solution (a big no-no, as it’s brimming with harmful microbes)—can lead to painful irritation, bacterial conjunctivitis (pink eye), and even eye ulcers that can lead to vision loss.
Book a Contact Lens Eye Exam if: They're Proactive About Personal Hygiene
Dr. Cohen has a quick trick to help him I.D. kids who are ready for contacts: He checks under their fingernails. “Dirty nails tell me the child is not into hygiene and might not be ready,” he says.
Applying contact lenses with dirty hands gives germs a direct route to the cornea. When a troublesome eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis broke out in the U.K. in the early 2010s, researchers quickly zeroed in on reusable contact lenses. Among the risk factors: poor contact lens hygiene and dirty hands.
The same hand-washing steps that help stop the spread of cold and flu bugs—using warm water and soap for 20 seconds, followed by a thorough dry—are ultraimportant for contact lens wearers. The drying part is key, since even a droplet of tap water can harbor enough germs to contaminate lenses.
Book a Contact Lens Eye Exam if: They've Been Wearing Glasses for a While
Wearing and caring for specs is good practice and can provide clues as to whether they’re ready to switch to contact lenses.
“Are they responsible with taking care of their glasses?” Dr. Cohen asks. “Do they wear them as prescribed? Do they take care of them, or do they lose or break them? If they do a good job with glasses, they’ll probably do well with contacts, too.”
Book a Contact Lens Eye Exam if: They're Not Afraid to Ask for Help
If your child’s eyes do become itchy or irritated, they need to let you know. Also, even though it’s a myth that contacts can get lost behind your eye, if the lens dries out, it can become hard to remove or get lodged under the eyelid where you can’t see it.
If that happens, your child must be willing to ask for help, says Dr. Cohen, who sometimes sees patients asking for help removing stuck lenses from their eyes. Often, the lens isn’t even in there, though the patient thinks it is.
Book a Contact Lens Eye Exam if: They Know the Value of a Dollar
Contacts aren’t cheap. A year’s supply can cost hundreds of dollars, depending on the prescription and lens type.
If your child appreciates that, they may be more likely to take care of them. Try having your child chip in some of their allowance, suggests Dr. Cohen. With their own money at stake, they may take extra care not to lose or damage lenses.
Book a Contact Lens Eye Exam if: They Keep Asking
Kids have many reasons for wanting contacts—maybe they don’t like how they look with glasses, or they find specs annoying during sports. But sometimes it’s the parent, not the child, who wants them more.
“I’ve heard parents tell kids, ‘Oh, you’re getting them,’” says Dr. Cohen. “And I have to step in and tell the parent that it doesn’t really work that way.”
If a child really doesn’t want contacts, then they won’t be motivated enough to properly care for them, he says. Plus, learning to put in the lenses takes time and can be frustrating. After all, it’s natural to feel anxious about sticking your finger in your eye. A motivated child is more likely to stay with it.