Near-sighted children can now improve their vision using the same technique adults have used for years-hard contacts that gently reshape their corneas to eventually help them obtain perfect eyesight.
For decades, adults and teenagers have been wearing contact lenses to improve their vision. Most children or pre-teens have to rely on eyeglasses to help them see better, until they are able to handle contact lenses. Although a person eventually becomes accustomed to wearing them, the fact remains that glasses or contacts are a necessary annoyance, and many people would do anything to rid themselves of the burden. This fact has been proven by the remarkable increase in the frequency and availability of laser surgeries performed in the United States each year to correct vision.
However, there is a simpler, less invasive vision correction that many people have never heard of. The technique is generically referred to as orthokeratology, or ortho-K, and it involves the use of a rigid gas-permeable contact lens that works overnight to improve vision. A doctor takes a special picture of the eye to tailor-make a set of retainers customized for each patient to fit their eyes exactly. The contacts are similar to oral retainers for braces, in that they are worn at night while a person is sleeping. Some manufacturers of the lenses refer to the method as corneal refractive therapy. The rigid plastic of each contact lens works overnight to gently and safely reshape the front surface of the eyeball-the cornea-so that the wearer will have 20/20 vision during the day. The myopia that causes blurred vision is eventually fixed with the overnight wearing of the retainers, as long as the wearer continues to use them. Although the results have proved overwhelmingly successful for several years with adults, optometrists did not know until recently if the contacts would work as well for children.
The idea of using specially designed hard contacts to improve vision isn’t new. Some eye doctors have practiced it for decades with contacts worn daily. However, the procedure had limited appeal and wasn’t well-known prior to its approval by the FDA for overnight wear. Now, with safer, more oxygen-permeable materials, the process has grown in safety, effectiveness, and popularity. Part of the reason the retainer lenses are becoming more and more popular for children is easy to understand; children often have very active lifestyles that can be hampered by glasses or contacts. Glasses get in the way of most physical sports such as football, gymnastics, wrestling, and basketball. Contact lenses can be problematic for pre-teen children to handle, and they can’t be worn by anyone while swimming.
While many adults do not have to wear eyeglasses until much later in life, children whose vision is impaired at a young age may have problems with their vision deteriorating as they grow older. However, researches have found that nearsightedness does not progress as rapidly in children who wear corneal refractive lenses. Children place their retainer lenses in at night before they sleep and remove them upon awakening. After a few weeks of wearing their lenses, they obtain clear vision throughout the day. The retainer lenses must be inserted nightly to maintain clarity.
Since it is a relatively new therapy, most insurance plans do not cover eye retainers. The average cost is $2,000.