- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 19, 2000

When a child needs glasses, it is important to fit him or her with glasses especially made for a youngster, says Kathy Fritzke, an optician at Eye Street Optical in Chantilly.
"Fitting an adult is a different situation than fitting a child," Mrs. Fritzke says. "The most important thing about children's glasses is to get frames with sturdy construction. Either plastic or metal will work. Plastic is a little more durable. Metal is easier to adjust, however."
Children will see better in a pair of glasses scaled for a smaller face, she says. Frames fit properly when the eyes are centered in the frames. The temple pieces should be flexible enough to bend outward without breaking, and the nosepieces should be adjustable to prevent slipping.
When choosing frames, consider whether the child's particular prescription will fit in the frames. Particularly strong prescriptions and some bifocal lenses might not fit in very delicate frames, Mrs. Fritzke says.
A good choice for very young patients is earpieces made of silicone rubber that bend all the way around the ear rather than just resting on it.
"These types of glasses are able to keep up with the rough-and-tumble of toddlers," Mrs. Fritzke says. "They help keep the glasses in position over the eyes."
The best type of lens material for children is polycarbonate, a material similar to plastic that literally is unbreakable and relatively scratch-resistant, she says.
"Polycarbonate is not necessarily more expensive, and it is definitely worthwhile," Mrs. Fritzke says.
Most frames start at about $50 (lens prices vary depending on materials and prescription). Mrs. Fritzke recommends not choosing the cheapest frames in the display, however. Glasses in the $80 to $120 range will be a better deal in the long run, she says.
"Better quality frames don't break as easily," she says. "A lot of the time, you get what you pay for."
It also is not a bad idea for children who really depend on their glasses to have a backup pair for emergencies, Mrs. Fritzke says.
"If a child's vision is such they cannot go to school without glasses, he or she should have a backup pair," she says. "That way, it won't be a big crisis if the glasses are lost. A lot of times, we can't fix something quickly, especially if it is a specialty prescription."
When choosing a pair of glasses, children have almost as many fashionable choices as adults. Fifteen years ago, a typical optical store would have about 15 frames for children. Today, there are about 100, says Mrs. Fritzke, who has been in the business for 24 years.
"I think manufacturers are realizing a child's anatomy is different," she says. "Their noses have lower bridges, their cheekbones are higher. They are not just smaller; they are different. There are some adorable styles out there now."
Still, there comes a time when a child may want to replace his glasses with contact lenses. Ophthalmologists say there is no set age at which a child is ready to wear contacts in fact, contacts sometimes are used in babies with vision problems such as cataracts.
The most important criteria is the individual child and his level of maturity because wearing contacts involves sticking to a schedule for cleaning and delicate handling.
"We don't use age as much as we use motivation and sufficient maturity," says Dr. Harold Koller, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' section on ophthalmology. "A child has to be able to want it and be able to care for the cleaning and storage of the contacts. On the average, that maturity comes at around age 12 for girls and age 15 for boys."

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