Most kids don't get contacts until they're at least 13.
But at age 9, Zoe Du is a veteran.
She's been wearing contacts for a year. But unlike most people, she puts hers in at night before sleep, then removes them in the morning. The goal is to keep her eyes from growing at the same rate that she does.
"That's the problem with nearsightedness. The eyes grow too long," said OSU Optometrist Dr. Jeffrey Walline. "So if we can keep them from growing, we can keep kids from becoming as nearsighted as they would have otherwise."
Dr. Walline directs the new Kids Contact Lens Clinic at the OSU College of Optometry.
Once Zoe hops into an exam chair, he pulls a machine over, spins dials, and asks her to read an eye chart. Then he explains how the new night-time contacts work.
"It changes the shape of their cornea, the clear window in the front of their eye. And that temporarily makes it so they can see clearly throughout the day without glasses or contact lenses," he says.
When he is satisfied that her vision is sharp, Dr. Walline escorts Zoe down the hall to another room, with another machine.
He uses this one to make a map of her eyes, to make sure that the new contacts are doing their job. Thanks to new materials and disposable lenses, he says kids as young as 4 have used contact lenses. Some are gas permeable or soft contacts to correct vision during the day.
"The biggest hurdle that kids face is anxiety," he says. "They think that anything that goes into the eye will hurt. But once we put the contact lens in the eye, they understand that it feels a little bit funny, but it doesn't hurt. They ultimately become very capable of putting them in themselves, taking them out themselves, and if they have to, they can care for them."
He adds that once children start wearing contacts, the lenses boost self-esteem.
"Kids who wear contact lenses actually feel better about themselves in terms of their appearance, in terms of how they interact with their friends, and even in terms of their academic or athletic abilities," Dr. Walline says.
Zoe agrees that contacts are better than glasses.
"Sometimes when you wear glasses, it's hard to do stuff. Like for gym," she explained. "Sometimes you have to take your glasses off and then you won't be able to see well."
While optometrists at the Kids Contact Lens Clinic fit a variety of lenses on young children, the new eye-shaping contacts are still waiting for federal approval.
Once they're approved in a few years, Dr. Walline thinks more optometrists across the country will start fitting younger children with contact lenses.
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