The Pros and Cons of Contact Lenses for Kids Who Play Sports

There’s no one right way to help your young athlete see clearly and stay safe on the playing field. Here’s what parents need to know to make an informed decision.

Girl playing tennis

If you’re the parent of a young athlete who wears glasses, you know the challenges: Your child needs the specs to see clearly and perform at their best. But you worry that glasses make them vulnerable — they could fall off during a game, compromising your kid’s vision. Or worse, they might break, which could be dangerous.

But playing without glasses isn’t a great option either. Blurry vision or misjudging distances could affect your child’s performance on the field and also increase the risk of injuries. This is especially the case with contact sports such as football, or those with fast-moving projectiles, such as baseball and hockey.

One solution: Switch your kid to contact lenses. Contacts stay put during vigorous activity, and they provide better peripheral vision than glasses, which can improve accuracy and reaction time, says Tonya Tira, O.D., an optometrist with National Vision in Geneva, Illinois. Those can be important advantages when playing sports.

Should my child switch to contact lenses?

Not every kid is ready for contacts. Here are a few things to consider when deciding if your young athlete is a candidate:

What’s their prescription? Nearsighted kids and those with astigmatism are generally ideal candidates for contact lenses. Kids who are farsighted and need glasses primarily for reading and computer work can probably get away with simply taking off their glasses for sports. “But once they’re full-time glasses wearers, I’ll talk about the contacts that are available for their prescription,” says Dr. Tira, who is a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry.

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Are they motivated? If your child isn’t convinced of the benefits of contact lenses, you may have a hard time persuading your kid to wear them. After all, putting them in takes much more effort than just slipping on a pair of glasses. Make sure your child is actually eager to try contacts before you make an appointment to get them fitted.

Can they handle the responsibility? Generally, kids can begin using contact lenses between the ages of 8 and 12, Dr. Tira says. However, your child has to be ready to handle the task of inserting the lenses: touching their eyes and pulling on their eyelids.

Another concern is whether they’ll be responsible with washing their hands and keeping the lenses clean so that they don’t risk infection. Some kids may not be mature enough for all that until their teen years.

The optometrist can talk through these factors with you and your child so that you can decide together if contacts are the best choice.

My kid is ready for contacts. Now what?

Dr. Tira recommends that parents have their kids practice touching their eyes the week before their appointment for contact lens fitting. “A lot of kids assume that if something is going in their eye, it’s going to hurt. So this helps them get over that initial fear,” she explains. It also helps them develop the fine motor skills needed to insert a contact lens.

To help your child practice, first find a lubricating eyedrop or gel meant to treat dry eye. Then have your child wash and dry their hands and place a drop on one finger. Have your child pull one eyelid and touch the white of the eye with the lubricant, then repeat on the other eye.

Encourage your child to practice the action several times. “If they’re able to do that successfully, it’s going to make it so much easier for them to put the contact in when they come to the office for their fitting,” Dr. Tira says.

Once you’re at your appointment, your optometrist can help you decide what type of lenses will work best for your child. Daily disposable contact lenses score points for convenience and ease of use for active children.

Plus, Dr. Tira likes the idea of using fresh lenses every day to help lower the odds of infection-causing bacteria entering the eyes. (This is a good thing if your child is prone to cutting corners in the hand-washing department, since poor hand hygiene is one of the leading risk factors of an eye infection in contact lens wearers.)

You’ll also want to consider your budget. Daily disposables are generally more expensive than monthlies or other reusable lenses. One good way to save is with America’s Best Eyecare Club, which includes up to 2 contact lens exams per year and 10% off contact lenses, glasses, and accessories.

We’re going to stick with glasses for now. Are some styles better?

If it’s not time for contact lenses yet, or your child wants the option of switching back and forth, consider getting a pair of prescription sports goggles. These glasses feature shatter-resistant polycarbonate lenses and a fitted design that’s ideal for wearing with helmets. Some come with an optional strap to help the glasses stay put. 

If you want to stick with more traditional frames, you can still opt for the impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses, ones with flexible metal frames or plastic frames — and at America’s Best, all children under 13 receive a free polycarbonate upgrade. Look for close-fitting styles — “something that wraps around the face a little bit better,” Dr. Tira says.

Dr. Tira also encourages parents to consider photochromic lenses if their child plays outdoor sports. These lenses automatically adjust their tint based on the light conditions. “That way, they don’t need to switch into sunglasses,” she explains.