By Michael Hutton

Ortho-k lenses  for children which not only correct short-sightedness but also prevent it getting worse are not available in high street chains such as Specsavers, Vision Express or Boots because they require more time to fit than conventional contact lenses and glasses. So parents are not being offered one of the potentially best treatment options for their children after they have been diagnosed with ‘myopia' - the term used for short-sightedness when distant objects appear blurry. The other key benefit of ortho-k lenses is that they are only worn at night whilst sleeping - they correct myopia simply by using the mild pressure of closed eyelids during sleep.

Although the optical science of orthokeratology has been established for over 50 years, ortho-k lenses  for children have only recently become available commercially. This is because translating the science into wearable contact lenses required developments in lens materials, computer diagnostics and manufacturing technology which have only been achieved during the past 10 years. Now these unique lenses have satisfied stringent clinical trials including the USA's main regulatory agency, the FDA. More importantly, research on their benefits has shown how - once a child starts wearing them - they prevent the eyeball from elongating just like a dental brace holds teeth in place and so they stop the eyesight prescription from deteriorating further.

But back to the high street chains who continue to promote only glasses and conventional daytime contact lenses. When pressed as to why they do not offer ortho-k lenses  for children their responses range from questioning the clinical evidence for the efficacy of the lenses through to explaining that the fitting requirements for ortho-k are not compatible with the schedules of busy branded outlets. Cynics might argue that the fact ortho-k lenses take time to become a profitable source of income for a practice is more likely to be the reason the chains do not offer them. In which case, parents are fortunate that increasing numbers of independent optometrists are recognising the benefits of ortho-k and investing in the equipment and training to be able to provide the treatment to their patients.

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