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Ortho-K for Kids: Is It the Right Option for My Child?

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Is your child nearsighted? Does he hate to wear their glasses?

If you answered yes to both questions, you are not alone. According to the American Optometric Association, around one in four parents have a child with myopia. 

Few of these children with myopia enjoy wearing glasses. They might feel self-conscious, overwhelmed or irritated by the responsibility of looking after them, or uncomfortable wearing them. If your child is particularly active or enjoys sports, glasses may not be practical at all.

So, what are the alternatives?

Orthokeratology (Ortho-K) is a solution offered by many pediatric ophthalmologists. Read on to find out if it’s the right option for your child.

What is Ortho-K and how does it work?

Ortho-K is a non-surgical treatment that is a practical alternative to eyeglasses and regular contact lenses. The patient must wear specially designed lenses overnight but will not need to use any vision correction method during the day.  

The lenses improve daytime vision by gently reshaping the front curvature of the eye temporarily. When the child wakes after sleeping with Ortho-K lenses, they will have good vision at all distances all day. The effects are not permanent so lenses need to be worn each night to maintain good daytime vision. 

Ortho-K is not a new procedure. The idea was actually developed in 1962 by George Jessen, an optometrist and pioneer of the contact lens. It is only more recently that further research and technological developments have allowed Ortho-K to become the safe, precise and consistently successful treatment it is now. 

What are the greatest benefits for children?

There are three hugely significant benefits of Ortho-K for children that cover both short-term and long-term periods. 

  • Ortho-K lenses can slow down the progression of myopia.

This is incredible news for parents. The opportunity to slow down the progression of their child’s myopia is naturally one that many parents jump at. Progressively stronger prescriptions are something to be avoided. Parents are also concerned to hear that childhood myopia is linked to a higher risk of serious eye problems in later life as well, such as retinal detachment. 

The progression of myopia in children is believed to be caused by axial elongation. This is the need of the eyeball to elongate due to blurred images cast on the peripheral retina when using eyeglasses or regular contact lenses. Orthokeratology gently re-flattens the cornea and thus allows the rays of light to cast a clear image on both the central and peripheral retina. This results in significant control over the further increase of nearsightedness.

Research continues, but there have already been many studies that indicate that Ortho-K can make a significant long-term difference. One example is a two-year study of children from Hong Kong published in 2012. Researchers looked at whether Ortho-K could sufficiently interrupt axial elongation. The trial found that “…on average, subjects wearing Ortho-K lenses had a slower increase in axial elongation by 43% compared with that of subjects wearing single-vision glasses.”

The same study also found that the younger the child, the greater the effects of Ortho-K lenses. As a result of research like this example, pediatric ophthalmologists are increasingly using orthokeratology to control myopia. Not only does it benefit their vision immediately, but its long-term benefits are well worthwhile.

  • Children need no additional daytime vision correction.

Orthokeratology nearly always removes the need for any additional daytime prescription, so there’s no need for eyeglasses or regular lenses. Both parents and the child are always pleased to hear this. There will no longer need to worry about losing glasses, struggling to see schoolwork without them, or any of the other day-to-day difficulties that are part of myopia. 

Ortho-K lenses allow your child the freedom to take part in sports and all their favorite activities, enjoy their school day, and not be hindered by their vision problems. 

  • Orthokeratology is non-surgical. 

Vision correction surgery is rarely recommended before the age of 18 or until stability of correction is reached. Up to this point, a daytime prescription would be needed. Ortho-K lenses can be used even when surgery is not yet possible. 

Besides this, it is understandable that many parents do not like the idea of their child undergoing surgery unless absolutely necessary. The news that there is a non-surgical alternative that can be accessed sooner is positive. Ortho-K is also non-invasive and painless.

Is it safe?

As a non-invasive treatment, the risks associated with Ortho-K lenses are low. The greatest risk is infection, but as long as the lenses are handled correctly and children are supervised during insertion or removal, this risk is still small. 

Like other treatments for myopia, there is also a small risk that patients may experience glares or halos which often diminish with time. 

Are Ortho-K lenses easy for kids to manage?

Apart from fairly regular appointments to check progress, the lenses can be managed easily at home on a day-to-day basis with parental supervision and a good hygiene routine. Most patients quickly get used to their new lenses. The lenses are comfortable and do not affect sleep. 

Initially, the child would need to attend the eye clinic for an appointment with an orthokeratology specialist. This involves an eye examination and corneal mapping. Once lenses are prepared, the child and parents would return for the initial fitting and an explanation of how to use them. This pair of lenses should then last around a year. 

It is important to know that orthokeratology is completely reversible. If your child experiences any problems or dislikes the lenses, the patient can simply stop wearing them and use an alternative prescription. 

Is orthokeratology the best option for my child?

Orthokeratology offers significant benefits to the young patient, both short-term and long-term, with very little risk and discomfort. This is why it is now increasingly recommended as an option for children with myopia. Only a consultation with an ophthalmologist can confirm if it is the best option for your child. Therefore, it is best to seek advice from your family’s eye clinic as soon as possible. 

AUTHOR BIO

Dr. Millicent M. Grim, Specialist Ophthalmologist & LASIK Specialist, is the Medical Director of Gulf Eye Center in Dubai. Since 2002, Gulf Eye Center’s highly qualified ophthalmologists and optometrists/ODs have been successfully treating a wide range of eye conditions using advanced techniques. They also provide comprehensive eye care and vision restoration procedures for people of all ages.

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