Can Kids Wear Contacts, Get LASIK Surgery?

At what age can near- and farsighted kids try something other than glasses?

“Most kids are 11 to 13 before they're ready for contacts,” says Arthur Rosenbaum, M.D., chief of the pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus division at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. But there’s a wide fluctuation in maturity levels, he adds, and some kids are ready for contacts at an earlier age. “Also, if their parents wear contacts, they can help teach the child how to handle and clean them,” Dr. Rosenbaum says.

And what about those non-prescription colored contacts (midnight blue, purple – even tiger’s-eye!) that have become popular with preteens? Forget it, says Rosenbaum. There’s a risk of serious infection, he says, along with other problems that can arise from the fact that the lenses haven’t been fitted properly by a professional. And, of course, it’s never smart for kids to swap cosmetic contact lenses – or eye makeup, for that matter – in search of a new look.

Except in rare cases, Rosenbaum believes LASIK surgery should be reserved for adults. (LASIK is the acronym for “laser assisted in situ keratomileusis,” which refers to creating a flap in the cornea and using a laser to reshape the underlying cornea.)

There are few, if any, reasons to do it before age 18 to 20, he says. One exception might be if a child has extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness in just one eye, since these conditions may be hard to correct any other way.

“There hasn’t been any scientific evidence to show that LASIK surgery is superior to glasses or contact lenses for kids,” Rosenbaum says. Also, there are several definite risks to performing the surgery on youngsters, he notes, including the need for general anesthesia and the fact that the surgery would be performed on eyes that have not yet finished growing.

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