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Contact lenses: Are they right for your teen?

teen girl taking a selfie

Are you trying to decide whether to get contacts as well as eyeglasses? Or maybe you're sure you want contact lenses, but you can't decide what kind would be best for you.

Before making a final decision, here are some points you should consider.

Contacts Or Glasses?

When it comes to contact lenses or eyeglasses, both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Many teenagers choose to wear contact lenses because they think they look better without glasses. But contacts offer plenty of other benefits as well.

A significant research trial called the Contact Lenses in Pediatrics (CLIP) study was conducted recently to evaluate the outcomes of teenagers and children as young as 8 years of age when fitted with soft contact lenses for the first time.

A total of 85 teenagers (ages 13 to 17) and 84 pre-teens (ages 8 to 12) were enrolled in the study, which took place at three U.S. optometry schools. Three months after the fittings began, the researchers found:

  • No serious adverse effects from contact lens wear occurred among any of the participants.

  • The time required to fit the lenses was essentially the same for teens and younger children.

  • 89 percent of teens and 83 percent of the younger children found it was easy to clean and take care of their lenses.

  • In answers to a lifestyle questionnaire after being fitted with contacts, 65 percent of teens reported that wearing contact lenses improved their performance in activities, and 73 percent reported receiving positive feedback from others after beginning to wear contacts.

Furthermore, when the parents of teens participating in the study were questioned about how well their son or daughter was doing after being fitted with contact lenses:

  • 92 percent agreed with the statement, "My child finds it easy to clean and take care of his/her contact lenses."

  • 89 percent agreed with the statement, "My child is demonstrating that he/she is responsible enough to wear contact lenses and properly care for them."

  • 80 percent agreed with the statement, "Contact lenses make my child feel better about himself/herself, more confident."

  • 84 percent agreed with the statement, "I feel that contact lenses are right for my child."

Responses from the parents of pre-teens participating in the study were comparable.

Based on the very positive outcomes of this controlled clinical trial, the CLIP study authors concluded that neither teens nor pre-teens experienced problems related to contact lens wear during the study, and that eye doctors should consider routinely offering contact lenses to young patients as a treatment option for vision problems, even for children as young as 8 years old.

So what are the downsides of contact lenses?

The most common problem is that, in extreme conditions, dirt or dust can get under the lenses, making them itchy or painful. This happens more often with rigid gas permeable lenses compared with soft contacts, which fit closer to the eye. You usually can solve the problem by using contact lens drops or removing the lens and rinsing it with contact lens solution.

Other contact lens-related problems may be caused by the wearer. If you don't clean your lenses properly or often enough, protein can build up on the lenses, leading to itching, blurring or possible infection.

Also, if you wear your contacts longer than the doctor recommends, you can deprive your eyes of oxygen, which can cause serious damage to the cornea. If you share your contacts with others (a big no-no), you risk major eye infection or disease.

How do you know if you're a good candidate for contact lenses? Although it's not likely, you could have a vision problem that would make contacts an unrealistic choice. Or, if you have a lot of problems with your eyes, such as pink eye symptoms, frequent eye infections or dry eyes, it might be safer for you to avoid contact lens wear, which can worsen these problems.

In addition to eliminating the risk of contact lens-related eye infections and other problems, wearing eyeglasses offers other advantages as well, including eliminating the cost of contact lenses and lens care products, which adds up to hundreds of dollars a year. Wearing glasses also eliminates the daily hassle of cleaning and caring for contact lenses and remembering to bring cleaning and disinfection solution, your lens case and spare lenses with you whenever you are traveling or away from home.

A sometimes forgotten benefit of wearing glasses is the added eye protection they can provide. By wearing prescription sports glasses with impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses, you can significantly reduce your risk of sustaining a painful corneal abrasion or other eye injury during active sports.

On the other hand, glasses can fog up during sports; and, depending on your eyeglass prescription and other factors, your peripheral vision may not be as good with glasses as it is when wearing contact lenses, and the potential exists for your glasses to get knocked off your face during some sports and activities.

Contact Lens Cost

The price of contact lenses can vary significantly, depending on the type you choose. Sometimes glasses are cheaper, and sometimes contacts are the less expensive option. For example, daily disposable contact lenses may be more expensive than glasses.

For more details, visit our How Much Do Contacts Cost page.

Ideally, if you wear contact lenses, you also should have an updated pair of eyeglasses as a backup in case you lose a contact lens or your eyes become dry or irritated.

Types Of Contact Lenses

If you opt for contact lenses, you have several varieties to choose from:

Soft contact lenses. Most people who wear contacts choose soft lenses, which are popular because they're immediately comfortable and easy to adapt to. Even people with sensitive eyes usually can wear soft lenses.

Standard soft contact lenses correct nearsightedness and farsightedness. Specially designed soft contacts called toric contact lenses can correct astigmatism as well.

Gas permeable contact lenses. An alternative to soft lenses is gas permeable contact lenses (also called GP or RGP contacts). These lenses are made of a variety of oxygen-permeable rigid plastic materials. Modern GP lenses have replaced old-fashioned hard contact lenses, which didn't allow oxygen to reach the eyes.

Sometimes people shy away from gas permeable lenses because it takes longer to adjust to them compared with soft contacts and the upfront cost of GP lenses is higher.

But RGP lenses have some great advantages. They often provide sharper vision than soft lenses do, and they are much more durable. And in some cases, wearing RGP lenses may help control myopia in children.

In addition, GP lenses often are more economical in the long run and may reduce the risk of contact lens-related eye infections.

RGP lenses can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and even high amounts of astigmatism.

Hybrid contact lenses. Hybrid contact lenses offer the advantages of both soft and RGP lenses. The central zone of hybrid lenses is made of a GP material, providing clear, crisp vision; the center is surrounded by a soft lens "skirt," for greater comfort and easier adaptation.

Although hybrid contact lenses tend to cost more than soft or RGP lenses, they often are an excellent solution if you want the sharpest vision possible but cannot tolerate conventional RGP lenses.

Hybrid contact lenses can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.

Daily or extended wear. Contact lenses are divided into categories based on how long you wear them and how long you keep them: daily wear, extended wear, planned replacement, and disposable contact lenses. RGP and hybrid contacts are not available in disposable styles.

Contact lenses with sun protection. Some soft contact lenses offer protection from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays that have been associated with an increased risk of cataracts and other eye problems. But if you choose these lenses, make sure you also wear UV-blocking sunglasses when you're out in the sun. Sunglasses provide better UV protection because they shield your entire eye, not just the part under the contact lens.

Tinted lenses. Many contacts have a light "handling tint" so you can find them more easily in their storage case or if you drop them. You can also get soft contacts that amplify or blend with the natural color of your eyes. These color-enhancing lenses work well with light-colored eyes. If you have dark eyes, tinted soft contact lenses with opaque colors can change your eye color completely.

Colored contacts are available even for people who don't need to correct their vision, but want to enhance or change their eye color.

Some contact lenses are available with special tints to wear during sports to heighten contrast, so you can see a tennis ball, baseball or golf ball better. And theatrical contact lenses, such as those used in scary movies, can dramatically alter the appearance of your eyes, with designs such as "cat eye" and "alien."

Check with your eye care practitioner for the latest available styles of colored and special-effect contact lenses.

Custom contacts. There are many types of custom contact lenses, including lenses with special tints to mask corneal irregularities or scars caused by an eye injury or congenital eye disease.

Additionally, orthokeratology (ortho-k) is a technique in which an eye doctor fits you with specially designed GP lenses that reshape your eye to correct nearsightedness and/or astigmatism. For ortho-k to be effective, you need to periodically wear retainer lenses to keep your eye in its new shape.

Specially designed RGP and hybrid contact lenses are available to treat a cornea disease called keratoconus.

Cleaning Your Contact Lenses

Whichever type of contacts you choose, you need to clean them whenever you take them off (except daily disposables, which you throw away after wearing them for one day).

If you choose conventional soft lenses, your eye doctor may recommend an enzymatic cleaner to help remove protein deposits. RGP lenses also may require an enzymatic cleaner.

More Questions?

For answers to frequently asked questions about contact lenses for children and teenagers, check out our contact lens Q&A for parents page and our Contact Lenses FAQs section.

READ NEXT: My teen hates glasses and is afraid of contact lenses, what can we do?

Contact Lenses In Pediatrics (CLIP) study: overview of findings and conclusions. Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc., 2007.

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