How to get a 12 year old to wear contact lenses.
September 16, 2004 3:35 PM   Subscribe

My 12 year old daughter wants to ditch her glasses for contacts. Problem: she can't seem to get past the first stage - actually getting one on her eye. I started wearing them at age 20 and had no trouble but I realize it's a tricky thing to learn initially, especially for a kid. Any tips for making that weird fingertip-in-the-eye process less frustrating? The blink reflex is mighty strong.
posted by davebush to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I started wearing them at 13. I was horrible -- I'm still horrible -- at putting contacts in. But when I learned in the first place, I stayed at the eye doctors' for the whole bloody day, putting my contacts in, taking them out, putting them in, taking them out. They were very patient, moreso than me, and quite encouraging. The fact that I was there and not at home meant that I had good light, those huge mirrors, and I couldn't very well throw a tantrum in public. :)

I guess my answer is: have her do it over and over, at the optometrists, and make sure that they help her learn. That's their job, after all.
posted by waldo at 3:52 PM on September 16, 2004

Left contact on left index finger.

Left lower eyelid pulled down and held by middle finger of left hand, as contact hovers threateningly on index finger in front of eyeball.

Reach over your head with your right hand, hold upper left eyelid open with middle finger of right hand.

Now, here's the trick. Every thing should align well, and she has to move the contact towards her eyeball, but as it gets close to her eye, she must look away from the contact, and for the left eye I recommend looking directly right.

Poke finger gently into eye, blink, see clearly, now go get Daddy a beer.
posted by dglynn at 3:55 PM on September 16, 2004

Practice practice practice

I am 22 and first got contacts about a year ago. I had a really strong blink reflex too, and it felt impossible at first. On my first try I think it took over an hour to get them both in. Next few times took like 20-30 minutes. Then for several weeks it would usually take 2-3 tries per eye - just long enough to be frustrating. Gradually I got better though, and my blink reflex rarely messes me up anymore.

Not for your 12 year old daughter, but if others are looking for advice: though it seems counterintuitive, when I was getting used to putting them in I found it much easier if I had a few beers in me (i often wore glasses during the day and put them on before going out at night). The trick is finding the happy medium where you are buzzed enough to shut down the blink reflex without being so drunk that you lose the necessary motor skills. YMMV.
posted by rorycberger at 3:59 PM on September 16, 2004

I don't know if others do this or not - when I got my first (soft) contacts I was taught to put the lens on the white of my eye and then look around so that it went onto my iris (hope that description makes some sort of sense.) It means that you're not actually putting your finger directly over the pupil, which might help to avoid the blink reflex.

I've been wearing contacts for ten+ years now and have always put them on that way, with no problems.
posted by different at 4:00 PM on September 16, 2004

I got contacts when I was a kid and didn't have much trouble with it, but I know some people don't get the hang of it as easily. I do have a few suggestions I've shared with newbies in the past. Apologies if I'm dissing your own technique. Also, I use rigid gas-permeable lenses; whether this all applies equally to soft lenses I can't say.

Don't start using a mirror! It's redundant, as you can see your approaching finger with your eye just fine. I've seen too many people wander around restaurants and ballparks balancing a contact on their finger, searching fruitlessly for a mirror. It's an awful crutch. Learn to insert a lens simply by looking down and raising the lens straight up to your eye.

Practice the "approach" without the lens. Start by touching the eyelashes, tapping and brushing at them until you trust your own finger and can do it without blinking. An eye doctor might object to this, but I'd even suggest practicing touching the cornea with a clean fingertip. Once you know that it doesn't hurt, the frantic blinking may decrease.

Work with eyedrops: getting simple saline-tears eyedrops into the eye is good non-blinking training, and the cool, wet sensation is prep for inserting a lens.

When it's time to try the lens again, hold the eyelids wide open with two fingers and raise the lens, cushioned with a drop of solution, s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y to the eye. Many people feel the blink coming and try to beat it, jabbing the finger at the eye. Go slow, feel the cool, refreshing drop of fluid touch the cornea, and gently squash the lens onto the eye. See clearly. Ahh.

This may not happen quickly. She's had 12 years to hone the blink reflex. Developing an exception for the fingertip may take awhile.
posted by Tubes at 4:03 PM on September 16, 2004

Whoa, I gotta strongly disagree with you there dglynn. That hand over your head nonsense makes it way more difficult, IMO, and the extra gymnastics make the process way more frustrating if you have to do it over and over again before you succeed.

try this:

left contact on RIGHT index finger.

use LEFT middle finger, held horizontally, to hold upper eyelid up (not only is this much easier, but by being horizontal you get a better grip on your eyelashes/lid)

use your right middle finger to hold down your lower eyelid (now the contact should be lined up right in front of your eye)

slowly bring contact to eye. reverse/repeat for right eye.

[on preview: it is a crutch, but the mirror really helps make it easier to find your eyelids before you put the contact on. If you poke yourself in the eye while doing this, it's going to be hard not to blink once the contact is coming.]
posted by rorycberger at 4:11 PM on September 16, 2004

I pretty much do what roryc does except that I put the lens kind of half on the index finger and half on the thumb, then separate them as I hit the eye. For a long time my biggest problem was getting the damned lens off my finger. When I was a kid I had a rubber applicator--this made it a lot easier, but it was probably not very sanitary.
posted by mookieproof at 4:17 PM on September 16, 2004

The hardest part is watching it come at you. Hold the eye open while you bring the contact close to your eye. When it's LOOMING right in front of you look up so you can't see it coming and then bring that baby home. If it's not working after a few tries rewet it and it'll slurp right onto your eyeball. If it's dry it'll just flop over on your finger and make you crazy with frustration.
posted by stefanie at 4:27 PM on September 16, 2004

Open your mouth, open your eyes really wide, look up and place the contact on the white of your eye. While still holding your finger to your eye, look straight ahead to slide the iris under the contact.
posted by Coffeemate at 4:30 PM on September 16, 2004

I also don't use a mirror, and never have. I'd advise against it.

Put a drop of saliene on the inside (curvy part) of the contact -- my eye doc swears that once the liquid touches the eye it makes it easier for the lens to get 'sucked' onto the eye, and I have found it to be so.

It sounds crazy, but try hard not to look at the lens. I put my elbows on the table, and put my left contact on my right forefinger. Then I pull down the lower lid only with my left ring finger and gently rest my left middle finger on my eyelid -- I'm not holding onto the top lid per se, just putting gentle pressure there. This means now that your (her) head is slightly tilted (ear toward left shoulder) since her elbows are still both on the table. Glance way up to the right at the corner of the room and bring the lens up to the eye from below. A big part of avoiding the whole blink reflex thing is to try not to see it coming.

Good luck.
posted by anastasiav at 4:46 PM on September 16, 2004

I have a coworker who just switched to contacts -- I taught her the following trick and she said she hasn't had a problem getting them in since. And that is to avoid exactly what Stefanie says above -- i.e., watching the contact come at you. This can be done in one of two ways (in my experience):

1. With a mirror: look only at your eye in the mirror, not the finger or the contact. It's sort of hard to explain, but you watch only the eye in the mirror -- your focus switches from the foreign object coming into the eye, and instead shifts to the image of the eye itself having a contact being gently placed on it. Does this make sense? The point of the exercise is essentially to avoid "seeing" the contact coming at you at all, thus overriding the blink reflex.

2. Without a mirror: glance up, so that you've barely got any lower peripheral vision, and and lightly tap the onto the surface of the lower white of the eye. Still glancing upwards, blink quickly a couple of times, then roll eyes straight ahead. (Basically what coffeemate said.)

Also, with either method, make sure there's a nice fresh drop of solution in the contact, and have her think of the that (i.e., the liquid) as what she's putting into her eye.
posted by scody at 4:46 PM on September 16, 2004

Yikes, all this "look away" advice is making me cringe. You must be soft-lens wearers. If a small rigid lens is placed onto the white of the eye, the suction can stick it there, quite painfully. It won't slide onto the cornea; it will jam against the edge. I've had agonizing times removing a lens that slid off due to wrestling around or whatnot, and stuck to the white. Ow.

davebush -- is your daughter using rigid or soft lenses?
posted by Tubes at 4:57 PM on September 16, 2004

1. With a mirror: look only at your eye in the mirror, not the finger or the contact.

I do that too, it's basically just setting your eye to "focus on far away stuff" mode, so that they can't focus on the impending finger trying to poke it.
posted by rorycberger at 5:01 PM on September 16, 2004

Tubes: yep, you're right -- I should have noted that my advice probably only applies to soft lenses, because that's all I've ever worn.
posted by scody at 5:06 PM on September 16, 2004

When I wore contacts I did the old white of the eye trick, left index only, for both eyes. I found that I trained my deterity in one hand much quicker, and could then put in my contacts in a moving car, hayride, movie theatre if need be... (make sure it is dry before you position the lens on the fingertip as it will stick to the finger if wet, and not your eye). Yes, I had soft lenses. I wore them for 15 years. I just had PRK last week, so no more of that.
I can tell you that in the PRK procedure they make you wear a contact lens for a week as a bandage for your cornea, and when the doctor removed them a second time (they change the "dressing" once), he opted to use a tweezer to get them out. Big mistake. I am much more used to the finger- mine or others- and we reverted to that. He was suprised, saying the optical tweezers are usually easier as there aren't fingers hovering about the eye. She will get used to it.
posted by oflinkey at 5:07 PM on September 16, 2004

I had the same problem when I first got contacts at age 13. On my contact lens guy's advice, I used Optrex eye wash -- eyedrop-like solution that you put in a little cup and swish around with your eye while holding the cup to your eye -- every night for about a week, and that did the trick. I have to admit that the thought of it makes me cringe now, but it worked.

I don't know if Optrex eye wash still exists, but a quick search of leads to a Bausch & Lomb product that looks like the same type of thing.
posted by sueinnyc at 5:37 PM on September 16, 2004

It sounds crazy, but try hard not to look at the lens.

That's the key for me - I keep both eyes straight ahead, and as I bring the lens to one eye (with a few drops of solution) I concentrate on the view from the eye I'm not putting the lens in, if that makes sense....
posted by jalexei at 6:12 PM on September 16, 2004

I use my right middle finger to insert the contacts. My suggestion is that you should sit next to her when she does it. place a clean non-turkish towel under her hands and tell her to take her time, there's no rush. All she needs is to keep her eyes open using her fingers and then gently insert the lens. Also let her know it's ok to not do it perfectly each time, eventually she'll get the hang of it. Also if she is using a mirror have her look at her eye instead of the lens as it approaches her eyeball.
posted by riffola at 7:00 PM on September 16, 2004

Well, when I tried to learn how to live with contacts, I could only manage to get them in or out of my eye if I was stinkin' drunk. A fun technique for awhile, sure, but eventually I just decided I was gonna be a four-eyes.

Now that I think about it.... I suppose this is a tip you may not want to share with your 12 year old daughter.

Oh well.
posted by spilon at 8:28 PM on September 16, 2004

what rory said. i started with the hard lenses when i was 13 but i still use the same technique today. tell her it does get easier over time. i was about to give up but i hated wearing glasses and finally got over.

and i've always used a mirror. in fact i can't put them in without it one. and i've never even thought about watching my finger go toward my eye. i'm always watching my reflection put it in.
posted by birdherder at 8:34 PM on September 16, 2004

Hey, it's good to hear that others have had trouble at first. I tried contacts when I was seventeen or so, and tried for forty minutes to get one in before giving up. My opticians told me that some peoples' eyes just wouldn't take them. I thought that sounded fishy, but I went along with it, and remained a four-eyes.

Maybe I'll give contacts a whirl sometime.
posted by Vidiot at 11:14 PM on September 16, 2004

rory, my gymnastic description was only for newbies to be able to hold upper and lower lids open at the same time. I've been wearing contacts for 28 years now, and I can jam them in using any finger, on any hand, in either eye.

I've also found the gymnastic routine(and really, that part is just to distract the victim) just seems to work with new contact wearers. Notice the only gymnastic part is the right hand's holding the upper lid, and could be done just as easily from the front, but newbies seem to get spatially disoriented as impact approaches, and the alignment of the overhead(actually kind of a 2/3 reach around) helps them keep the upper lens out of the way, as well as distracting them("put your change in your other pocket" type thing). Once they get the hang of it they do it however works for them anyway.

But we do agree, no mirror, look away from the approaching lens, and get Daddy a beer, right? Cause those seem like pretty fundamental things to me.
posted by dglynn at 11:32 PM on September 16, 2004

I've been wearing them since I was twelve. The biggest factor in learning was that my Mom insisted that I put them in and take them out four times in a row before she'd let me wear them to school. As this was the 80's and I was desperate to shed my horrendous coke-bottle glasses, I got over my squeamishness really quick. I used a mirror for a long time along with the "look at your eye in the mirror, not your finger" trick. Now I can practically do it in my sleep.
posted by web-goddess at 1:39 AM on September 17, 2004

Why would you ever put the contact on your index finger?

Most people's middle finger is longer than the index finger; thus, using the middle finger to hold the eyelid usually produces and awkward stretch for the index finger. Much easier to have the contact on the middle finger and use the index finger to hold the eyelid.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 2:40 AM on September 17, 2004

Also: I think I'm almost all alone in doing this, but once I've got the contact touching my eye I like to sort of roll my eyeball around, and try to get it to 'catch' that way, as opposed to pushing it onto the eye or just dropping it on. I've definetly gotten a lot of weird looks while doing it, though.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 2:43 AM on September 17, 2004

After more than twenty years of hit and miss contact insertion (some days would take mere seconds, others up to ten profanity-riddled minutes), a few years back my eye doctor told me the tip that works like magic, at least for me:

As soon as you insert the lens and it attaches to the eye (over the iris is how I do it), even if it still has a small bubble or two, LOOK DOWN with your eye, then gently close it. When you reopen your eye, the contact will be perfectly centered and ready to go.

I can't believe how much of a difference this makes in my morning routine.

Also Deja-MeFi. My 11 year old daughter is nearing the end of week one with soft contacts and is having a rough time fighting the blink reflex, but she's soldiering through and is getting better.

It's a pain to get used to shoving stuff in your eyes, but the payback in clearer vision is worth the learning curve.
posted by baltimore at 5:58 AM on September 17, 2004

Response by poster: When you've been doing it without thinking for twenty years, it's hard to explain a technique that comes naturally. After reading all the responses, I realized I use the "look at the eye" method, which (based on everything said here) seems to be the most successful. I think this'll work for her.

Thanks to everyone. I really appreciate it.
posted by davebush at 6:24 AM on September 17, 2004

Why would you ever put the contact on your index finger?

It's my most accurate, controlled finger. Sticking my middle finger into my eye would be like sticking my pinky finger in.

Me: RGP lenses. Lens on right index finger. Hold target eye open with left index finger (top lid) and right middle finger (bottom lid).

Or, since I've been doing this most of my life now, I sometimes just open my eye real wide and jam it in.

I fill the lens with saline. The saline touches my eye and gloms the lens onto it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:39 AM on September 17, 2004

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