For anyone wearing glasses, you know it can be a hassle at times.
But a relatively new option for children is being offered which could eliminate the need for glasses and help their vision at the same time.
Children are battling nearsightedness, or myopia, at a younger and younger age.
Doctors say contact lenses can offer several benefits over other forms of vision correction for kids.
“Actually 4 million American children are wearing contacts lenses. Structurally, the eye is very robust so it can handle wearing contact lenses from a very early age. In fact some infants are fit into contact lenses due to diseases and conditions they are born with,” said optometrist Dr. Ashley Setterberg.
While myopia is permanent, many children as young as 6 years old are wearing gas permeable lenses called orthokeratology, or “ortho-k,” which can help with myopia.
“With orthokeratology you use a special lens that is designed to sleep in. As you sleep, the lens acts like a retainer and molds your eye temporarily so that when you wake up you can take it off and see without any glasses or contacts that are needed. And with this, they have added benefits especially in children of decreasing progression of their prescription from getting higher,” said Setterberg.
With nearsightedness on the rise from the use of smart phones, tablets and computers, wearing these special soft contacts while you sleep can make a big difference for a child when he or she gets older.
“Orthokeratology is mainly used to slow down myopia which is basically when a child cannot see far away, and the parent may notice some squinting, moving closer to the tv or board, moving a book closer to them to be able to see. Also, if the child just recently had a prescription change and a few months later you are starting to notice these symptoms, this may be a sign the progression is happening quickly,” said Setterberg.
The patients must wear the lenses for at least six hours every night in order to help preserve their vision from getting worse as they grow older.
Dr. Ashley Setterberg says it’s important for parents to ask themselves whether their child is mature enough to insert, remove and take care of their contact lenses.
Now adults can use them too, however, it will not slow down their progression. The lenses are not covered by insurance because they’re still in clinical trials. The FDA hasn’t recognized myopia control or myopia management as a treatment.
The upfront cost for the lenses is roughly $1,000 to $1,200 depending on the prescription.
How does ortho-k work?
The cornea is a clear, dome-shaped window in the front of your eye that focuses light onto the retina and is responsible for most of the eye’s ability to focus. Its tissue is very flexible.
Your ophthalmologist will map and measure the surface of your cornea using an instrument called a corneal topographer and then design a lens especially for your eye.
The cornea map is created by reflecting light off the surface of the eye. The machine doesn’t touch your eye, and there is no pain. The corneal topography map shows your ophthalmologist the shape and curves of your cornea.
The lenses work by flattening the center of the cornea, changing how light is bent as it enters the eye.
Most orthokeratology lenses are worn overnight to flatten the cornea, then removed during the day.
These overnight lenses are rigid, gas-permeable lenses that are sturdy enough to reshape the cornea, but also allow oxygen through so your eye stays healthy.
When ortho-k lenses are removed, the cornea stays flattened for a while and vision is corrected without the need for glasses. If you stop wearing the lenses at night, your eyes will eventually go back to their original shape and the refractive error will return. You have to keep wearing the lenses regularly to keep the vision correction.
What can you expect from ortho-k?
It can take two weeks or longer to attain the maximum vision correction from orthokeratology, although some people experience significant vision improvement in days. In clinical studies of Food and Drug Administration-approved ortho-k lenses, most patients achieved 20/40 vision or better.
You may need a series of temporary ortho-k lenses to see properly until you reach the desired prescription.
Typically, up to three pairs of orthokeratology lenses are used, one after the other, to achieve the best vision correction. Once you’ve reached the desired prescription, you’ll use the same shape of lens each night to maintain the correction.
Until you get used to them, you will probably feel the lenses on your eyes until you fall asleep.
With time, they usually become more comfortable. Once your corneas have gotten the final desired curve, you will use a retainer lens-as often as your ophthalmologist recommends-to maintain your vision.