Healthbeat Report: Better Vision

June 18, 2009 9:04:12 PM PDT
Special contact lenses worn during sleep may help protect children from poor eyesight.As children grow, their eyesight can change so permanent fixes for nearsightedness such as laser surgery are not considered a good option.

Now some special contact lenses may not only give children temporary 20/20 vision but there's a chance they may even protect young eyes from getting worse.

The morning routine at the Goeks home includes hair combing, breakfast and some time to play - all typical activities, except maybe one thing. When the day begins, instead of putting in contact lenses Julia, Mariah and Wyatt take theirs out.

"Well.. it sorta feels like my vision is completely perfect," said Wyatt Goeks, Corneal Reshaping Therapy (CRT) patient.

The children are taking part in a study of CRT also known as Corneal Reshaping Therapy.

The contacts used in the therapy are not typical. They're hard lenses that go in before bed and while a person sleeps the specially shaped lens applies gentle pressure to the cornea. It's this flattening of the cornea that reduces myopia or nearsightedness.

When the lens are removed in the morning a patient's eyesight can be 20/20.

"They checked after the first week and they were able to see 20/20 and they hadn't been wearing the glasses all day," said Susan Goeks, mother.

CRT received FDA approval in 2002.

The fix is only temporary so for most people the contacts need to go back in each night. But these lenses could have an added benefit. They may also help protect a child's eyes from getting worse.

"We were seeing that these young people were not progressing in their nearsightedness. Whether they would be at the same level where they started or slightly more near sighted at a much lower level then we observed with children wearing glasses or soft contact lenses," said Barry Eiden, OD, Optometrist, North Suburban Vision Consultants.

So far the evidence is only anecdotal.

Optometrist Barry Eiden is one of 10 specialists taking part in a five year study to test the theory on some 300 children. Participants range in age from 8 to 14. Some will get CRT. Others will just use soft contacts. Early results are encouraging.

"So far, as we had hoped we would see, the subjects who are wearing corneal reshaping lenses are holding virtually stable," said Eiden.

But there are skeptics who not only raise doubts about CRT's ability to stabilize nearsightedness they also warn that these contacts if not cared for properly can lead to severe eye infections.

Surendra Basti is an ophthalmologist with Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

"The fact that the lenses are worn overnight is a very large risk factor. It's even more pronounced in children than adults. My general advice is not to go this route," said Dr. Basti.

Susan Goeks says in the two years her children have been using CRT they've had no problems. And, to her delight, she says the children's eyesight is holding steady.

"Their eyes had not progressed. Their eyes had not gotten any worse and that was my wow moment," said Susan Goeks.

It can be a rough couple nights for children as they get use to sleeping in the lenses. But we're told once the initial discomfort is over many forget they are even in.

Researchers say it's still too early to know if CRT can really control nearsightedness in young eyes. What they know is the contacts don't seem to do much for preserving older eyesight.

Click here for a list of all the eye doctors involved in the CRT study.
Click here for more information on the study.

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