Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Don't look at age

Contact lens wear for young - sense of responsibility should be determining factor, say some eye care practitioners

by Eveline Gan

IN GENERAL, most myopia sufferers start swapping their spectacles for contact lenses during their teenage or young adult years. But not for Rhadika Rewal, who began wearing contact lenses at 11.

Early this year, Rhadika, who has myopia of about 300 degrees, bought her first box of daily disposable contact lenses. She wears them to play basketball during the weekend.

"I felt that her spectacles were in danger of being knocked off during a practice session, so I thought it might be better for her to wear contact lenses," said Rhadika's mother, Mrs R Rewal.

While most parents in Singapore are still conservative and prefer their children to wear spectacles, eye care practitioners and optometrists Today spoke to said it is no longer a rarity to see children aged 12 and below wearing contact lenses.

In Singapore, contact lenses are a popular option for those who have myopia. Findings from market research organisation GfK Asia's optics retail panel, which tracked contact lens markets in Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Malaysia, revealed that the total value of the contact lens industry in the five Asian markets is approximately $391 million.

Cecilia Chia, an optometrist in private practice, said those aged 12 and below make up slightly less than 10 per cent of her contact lens clientele. She has had contacts fitted for those as young as nine years old.

For this group of young contact lens wearers, the majority of them have active lifestyles. "They find contact lenses more convenient when doing sports and other physical activities such as dancing," said Ms Chia.

How young is too young?

According to Mr Ng Quan Wei, regional clinical affairs and Singapore professional affairs associate director of a global contact lens manufacturer, contact lens wear is safe even for children below the age of 10, as long as they abide by the rules and guidelines on proper lens care and handling, and are under the supervision of qualified contact lens practitioners.

Mr Ng, who is also a lecturer and clinical supervisor at the Singapore Polytechnic School of Optometry, said most parents are not keen on getting contact lenses for children younger than 12 because they feel that their children are not ready for the responsibility.

"Many parents are usually worried about the hygiene factor of contact lens wear. They are afraid that the kids do not clean them thoroughly and risk experiencing eye infection," he said.

However, Mr Ng said that this worry is unfounded, especially if they opt for daily disposable lenses. He added that children might even learn to follow instructions and adapt to contact lens wear more easily than adults.

Dr Lee Jong Jian, a specialist in ophthalmology at Raffles Hospital, feels otherwise.

Dr Lee does not recommend that children wear contact lenses. He added that it is more appropriate for them to consider wearing contact lenses after the age of 16, when they are more mature.

"It is unsafe for young kids to start wearing contact lenses because it is unlikely that they are ready to handle contact lens care and hygiene issues properly," he explained.

Regardless of the type of contact lens, Dr Lee said that there will always be a risk of infection if they are worn for long hours.

"Infection, if severe, can result in corneal infection or ulcer, resulting in vision loss. It can also cause giant papillary conjunctivitis, a type of allergic eye condition associated with contact lens wear," he added.

That is why Mrs Rewal said she always makes sure Rhadika gives her hands a good wash prior to putting on her contact lenses.

"At that age, kids are always so busy with other things. She tends to forget (about washing her hands) so I always have to remind her," she said.

According to Mr Ng, age is but a number when it comes to contact lens wear. Whether a child is ready for contact lens wear depends on his maturity. His ability to handle contact lenses responsibly may be more important than age alone, he added.

"If you are considering contact lenses for your child, take a look at how your child handles other responsibilities," said Mr Ng.

"If he needs frequent reminders for everyday chores, he may not be ready for the responsibility of wearing and caring for contact lenses. But if the child can handle such duties well, he or she may be an excellent candidate for contact lenses."

From TODAY, Health - Tuesday, 28-Sep-2010
Don't look at age

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