Special class of contacts helping children’s eyesight and eye health

Medical Watch

Contact lenses can help people see better, but a new class of bifocal lenses can stop vision from getting worse for nearsighted children.

The lenses can keep kids seeing more clearly even when they are removed.

Myopia, or nearsightedness, is passed on in families. But it is becoming more of a problem with added screen time. And typically, after a child is first diagnosed, as their eyes grow, nearsightedness gets worse.

But Ohio State University researchers say they can stop the decline with special contacts.

“I have terrible vision,” Marissa DeJesus said. “Coke-bottle glasses type of vision.”

It was an accessory DeJesus wanted to spare her kids from wearing. So when she heard about a clinical trial to test contacts that might slow the progression of nearsightedness in children, the choice was clear.

“I was definitely on board if they can avoid the coke bottle glasses,” she said.

Jeffrey J. Walline is an Associate Dean for Research College of Optometry at Ohio State University.

“We found that these contact lenses actually do slow the progression of myopia,” he said. “And it really needs to be that high-add power, the high reading power of the contact lens in order to slow the progression of nearsightedness in children.”

To test their theory, optometrists at the Shio State University fitted 7 to 11-year-olds with soft contacts as part of the BLINK – Bifocal Lenses in Nearsighted Kids Study.

“These contact lenses are actually lenses used for adults over age 40 who need to see better up close,” Walline said.  “We just give them for a different purpose. And the idea is that they put part of the focus of light on the retina so you can see clearly, and part of the focus of light in front of the retina to slow the growth of the eye.”

The multifocal lenses reflect light on the retina in the back of the eye. As the eye grows, much like a flower, it wants to stay within the reach of light. So with the contacts on, the eye grows within normal range without further distortion that inhibits vision.

“Children tend to become nearsighted at about age 7, 8, 9 years old. They tend to progress until about age 15, 16,” Walline said. “So really any nearsighted child in that age range would be a good candidate.

Doctors taught the young ones how to insert the contacts properly and soon they were seeing more clearly.

“The idea is that when you wake up in the morning, you’ll be able to see your alarm clock as an adult or even as a young child because your nearsightedness didn’t get as bad,” Walline said.

And there is an added benefit as they grow.

“The idea is we want to keep them from becoming as nearsighted as they would have naturally so that in adulthood they have a lower risk of life-threatening complications like glaucoma, retinal detachment, myopic maculopathy and other eye diseases that can occur with nearsightedness,” Walline said.

 while DeJesus’s daughters do wear glasses, their prescriptions are not nearly as strong as their mom’s.

“They are forever going to be in glasses. It didn’t forever reverse progression but I’m hoping it slowed it so they can have cute frames and cute glasses,” DeJesus said.

In the study of nearly 300 children, in three years the progression of nearsightedness slowed by 43 percent.  

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