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HEALTH Teenagers and contact lenses

Nurturing

The ins and outs of contacts for teens


Áine Higgins

Many teenagers would prefer to wear contact lenses than glasses. For those who are concerned about their looks – bodily appearance can be a major worry for those still navigating their way through the uncharted territory of puberty – contact lenses can provide a great confidence boost. But it’s not just about cosmetics: In terms of giving a teenager the freedom to play sports or do other activities in which glasses could get in the way, they can provide safe, clear vision.
However, younger short-sighted teenagers could want to start wearing contact lenses from the age of 12 upwards. In my personal opinion, I would prefer to have a minimum age of at least 16, although this can vary depending on the maturity of the teenager and the prescription. Most contact lenses are designed to fit adult-sized curvatures, so it is better to wait until later teenage years.
Some teenagers require contact lenses for sport. In such cases, an assessment would be carried out, and a lens would be fitted to gauge if it fitted comfortably or not. A trial period of wearing the lens would then take place, just to make sure there were no adverse effects.
An eye examination will determine whether a teenager can wear lenses, and an annual check-up is carried out to ensure good eye health and to make sure the lens wearer is sticking to the contact lens-maintenance regime.
One of the major concerns for parents is that their children will wear their lenses for too long, or will fall asleep without taking them out. However, contact lenses are changing. A lot of the new lenses are made of silicone hydrogels, which can be worn for longer periods in the day – up to 14 or 15 hours.
Wearing lenses does mean that a teenager has to have a high level of personal responsibility – not least because they will need to pay extra attention to their own eye health. However, teenagers will be teenagers, and mistakes will undoubtedly happen. To be on the safe side, I would recommend disposable rather than monthly lenses, which involve cleaning. Popping in a fresh lens when required means that there are no problems when it comes to using cleaning solutions – so they are always going to be hygienically worn.
Wearing lenses is not a decision that should be taken lightly, and teenagers should be counselled about the obligations that could mean the difference between a new freedom to see clearly and serious eye problems in the future.

Aine Higgins is an optician based in Mongey’s Opticians, Castlebar and Ballinrobe. She was the first Irish optician to be nominated for the UK and Ireland Optician of the Year 2010.