Children's Health and Wellness

Eyeglasses and Contact Lenses

Lenses for correcting or improving vision

Picture of a young girl trying on a pair of eyeglasses

There are two types of lenses prescribed for correcting or improving vision. These include:

  • Eyeglasses (also called spectacles). Eyeglasses is the most common form of eyewear used to correct or improve many types of vision problems. They are a frame that holds two pieces of glass or plastic, which have been ground into lenses to correct refractive errors. Refractive errors can include nearsightedness or myopia (difficulty seeing far away), farsightedness or hyperopia (difficulty seeing close up), and astigmatism (blurring due to an irregularly shaped cornea). Eyeglasses perform this function by adding or subtracting focusing power to the eye's cornea and lens.

  • Contact lenses. Contact lenses are worn directly on the cornea of the eye. Like eyeglasses, contact lenses help to correct refractive errors. They perform this function by adding or subtracting focusing power to the eye's cornea and lens.

How to read an eyeglass prescription

The lens power of eyeglasses is measured in diopters. This measurement reflects the amount of power necessary to focus images directly onto the retina. When looking at an eyeglass prescription, you will see the following abbreviations:

O.D. Oculus dextrous simply refers to the right eye (sometimes the abbreviation RE is used).

O.S. Oculus sinister refers to the left eye (sometimes the abbreviation LE is used).

Illustration of a pair of eyeglasses
Click Image to Enlarge

In addition, the eyeglass prescription may also contain the following measurements:

  • Sphere. This number measurement reflects how much nearsightedness or farsightedness.

  • Cylinder. This number measurement refers to the amount of astigmatism (an irregularly shaped cornea which causes blurring) in the eye.

  • Axis. This number measurement describes the direction of the astigmatism in degrees.

Bifocal is additional power in the lens. It has an additional measurement listed on the prescription as "add" to show the strength of the lens.

What are the different types of eyeglass lenses?

The type of lenses used in eyeglasses depends on the type of vision problem, and may include:

  • Concave lenses are thinnest in the center. The numerical prescription in diopters is always marked with a minus (-) symbol. These lenses are used to correct nearsightedness (myopia). 

  • Convex lenses are thickest in the center, like a magnifying glass. Used to correct farsightedness (hyperopia). The numerical prescription in diopters is always marked with a plus (+) symbol. These lenses are used to correct farsightedness (hyperopia). 

  • Cylindrical lenses curve more in one direction than in the other. They are often used to correct astigmatism.

Picture of a young girl wearing trial eyeglasses to determine her prescription
Photograph used by permission of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

Eyeglasses for children

If old enough, let your child play an active role in choosing his or her own glasses. The following are features to consider when buying eyeglasses for children:

  • Shatterproof and impact resistant lenses, especially for children who play sports.

  • Scratch-resistant coating on the lenses

  • Spring-loaded frames that are less likely to be bent or warped

  • Silicone nose pads that prevent glasses from slipping

  • Cable temples (ear pieces that wrap around the ear) are recommended in children under four years. Straps may also be recommended to hold the glasses in place.

Facts about contact lenses

About 24 million Americans wear contact lenses, 80 percent of whom wear daily wear soft lenses. In general, there are two types of contact lenses in use, including the following:

  • The rigid, gas-permeable lens

  • The soft, water-absorbing lens

Reading a contact lens prescription

The prescription for contact lenses includes more information than what is available on the prescription for eyeglasses. Special measurements are taken of the curvature of the eye. In addition, your child's healthcare provider will determine if the eyes are too dry for contact lenses, and if there are any corneal problems that may prevent a person from wearing contact lenses. Trial lenses are usually tested on the eyes for a period of time to ensure proper fit.

The contact lens prescription usually includes the following information:

  • Contact lens power (measured in diopters, like eyeglasses)

  • Contact lens base curve

  • Diameter of the lens

Eye care specialists are required by federal law to give you a copy of your contact lens specifications.

Protect your child's eyes from the sun

Although parents go through great lengths to protect their children's skin from the harmful rays of the sun, many forget that the eyes need to be protected, too. Nearly half of American parents do not regularly provide their children with sunglasses that protect their eyes from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Exposure to sun may set children up for potential vision problems later in life.

The sun can cause sunburned corneas, cancer of the eyelid, cataracts, and macular degeneration, among other problems. In addition, children are more susceptible because their lenses do not block as much UV as adult lenses. Children also tend to spend more time outdoors than their parents, often in places where there is a lot of sun reflection. These include beaches, pools, and amusement parks. Most UV eye damage is the result of years of exposure. 

Protecting a child's eyes from the sun is simple:

  • Make sure your child wears a wide-brimmed hat that shades his or her face.

  • Buy your child sunglasses that block both kinds of UV rays. Make sure the sunglasses fit properly and are comfortable.

Print Source: Refractive Errors in Children. UpToDate
Online Source: Contact Lenses, Eye Care America: The Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology
Online Source: Contact Lens Types, American Academy of Ophthalmology
Online Source: Eyeglasses for Vision Correction, American Academy of Ophthalmology
Online Source: Sunglasses: Protection From UV Eye Damage, American Academy of Ophthalmology
Online Source: Myopia (Nearsightedness), American Optometric Association
Online Source: American Recognizing Vision Problems, Academy of Pediatrics
Online Editor: Geller, Arlene
Online Medical Reviewer: Bogus, William J., OD, FAAO
Online Medical Reviewer: Griggs, Paul B., MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/20/2015
© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.