Multifocal contact lenses for children with myopia can slow the progression of nearsightedness, providing a more effective and efficient treatment option. Several studies in the past five years have shown that soft multifocal contact lenses with a center distance design can slow the development of myopia as well as elongation of the eye.
"There have been four studies, including randomized clinical trials, and they all show a positive effect," says Jeffrey J. Walline, O.D., Ph.D., associate dean for research at The Ohio State University and chair of the AOA's Contact Lens & Cornea Section (CLCS). "The lenses work because they focus light in front of the peripheral retina, and they focus light right on the retina, which provides people with clear vision."
Multifocal lenses appear to be as effective as orthokeratology contact lenses. Orthokeratology, the process of wearing gas-permeable contact lenses at night to reshape the eye and temporarily provide clear vision without wearing glasses or contact lenses, also slows myopia progression and eye growth.
Children wearing multifocal lenses had 25 percent less myopia progression and 31 percent less axial elongation than those wearing single-vision lenses over two years, according to a 2014 double-blind, randomized, controlled trial of 221 Hong Kong children. The kids were ages 8 to 13 with myopia between -1.00 and -5.00 dioptres. Other studies showed an even greater treatment effect for the myopia group as compared with the control group.
Treatment benefits and beyond Myopia often develops between the ages of 8 and 16, Dr. Walline says. Theoretically, the earlier treatment is started, the more effective it could be, but it's not clear yet which kids make the best candidates. "Younger is better potentially; you might get a stronger treatment effect," Dr. Walline says. "And kids whose myopia is progressing more quickly have the potential for more benefit."
Wearing contact lenses in elementary school is becoming more commonplace. Children can experience fewer complications secondary to contact lens wear than college students do. "It's easy to train kids how to wear and care for contact lenses, and they are quite comfortable on the eye," Dr. Lowe says.
Contact lenses offer benefits beyond vision correction. Children often feel better about their appearance than if they were wearing glasses, and contact lenses are more convenient when playing sports or just running around with friends. These factors also make children feel better about their interactions with peers.