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Do Contacts Make Your Eyes Worse?

No, contacts do not make your eyes worse.

This is a common concern because many contact lens wearers are nearsighted children or teenagers whose eyes are still changing. So when they are told they've become more nearsighted at their annual eye exams, it's natural to suspect their myopia progression may be due to wearing contacts.

But it's not unusual for myopia to continue to progress throughout the school years and even into young adulthood — whether or not you wear contact lenses.

What Studies Say About Contacts Making Your Eyes Worse

Researchers conducting a major project called the Adolescent and Child Health Initiative to Encourage Vision Empowerment (ACHIEVE) Study recently looked into whether contact lenses have an effect on myopia progression (sometimes called "myopic creep") among children.

The ACHIEVE Study enrolled a total of 484 children ages 8 to 17 who had between -1.00 diopter (D) and -6.00 D of myopia and had not worn contact lenses on a regular basis prior to the study. The average age of the study participants was 10.4 years, and the average amount of pre-existing myopia was approximately -2.50 D.

Roughly half the children were randomly assigned to wear soft contact lenses, and the other half were assigned to wear eyeglasses during the three-year study period.

At the end of the study, there was no clinically meaningful difference in the amount of myopia progression between the two groups. So it appears that contacts won't make your eyes worse. But can contact lenses slow down or reverse myopia?

There's been much discussion and controversy over the years about whether rigid gas permeable contacts (also called RGP or GP contacts) can slow the progression of myopia in children. The National Eye Institute recently sponsored a major study called the Contact Lens and Myopia Progression (CLAMP) Study to answer this question.

In the study, 148 nearsighted children ages 8 to 11 were fitted with GP contact lenses. Of these, 116 were able to adapt to wearing the GP lenses and were enrolled in the study. They were randomly assigned to wearing either gas permeable contacts or soft contact lenses for a three-year period.

At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that wearing GP contact lenses did slow the progression of myopia to some degree (mean of 0.63 D) compared with wearing soft contact lenses, but that "the difference is not enough to warrant prescribing rigid gas permeable contact lenses solely for the purpose of slowing the progression of nearsightedness."

The researchers also suggested that the mild effect of GP lenses on myopia progression may not be permanent.

(It should be noted that the CLAMP study has no relevance to orthokeratology, which is a proven method for the temporary reduction or correction of myopia by wearing specially designed GP lenses to alter the shape of the eye during sleep.)

In summary, the ACHIEVE and CLAMP studies suggest that wearing contact lenses will not significantly alter the natural progression of myopia and eventual stabilization of your vision.

READ NEXT: Does looking at distant objects make myopia worse?

A comparison of spectacle and contact lens wearing times in the ACHIEVE study. Clinical & Experimental Optometry. May 2010. CLAMP study: A randomized trial of the effect of rigid contact lenses on myopia progression. Archives of Ophthalmology. December 2004.

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