What Effect Do Bifocals Have on Children?

By Susan Sherwood
Some kids with bifocals must tilt their heads or adjust their posture.
Some kids with bifocals must tilt their heads or adjust their posture.

Bifocals aren't just for aging adults. Occasionally, children need bifocals to correct eye problems such as crossed eyes or a difficulty changing focus from close up to farther away. For some kids, the bifocals will eventually fix the trouble and they won't be needed anymore. From the moment they are placed on a child's face, bifocals are having an effect. Though early effects might be frustrating, long-term results can be beneficial.

Perception Problems

Everyone who needs bifocals must go through an adjustment period, and kids are no exception. Sometimes, kids whose eyes have difficulty adjusting to different distances use bifocals because the lower part of the lens is stronger than the rest, according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. At first, visual perception is altered. The floor might seem too near or too far, and objects seem to move when kids' eyes switch between lenses. Children must learn the circumstances in which they need each type of lens.

Improve Crossed Eyes

Sometimes when children struggle to see, their eyes cross in an attempt to focus properly. Most of these kids are farsighted, so the crossing usually happens when trying to see objects that are nearby. Vision can be permanently impaired if the condition remains untreated. To correct the problem, children might have to wear bifocals, especially if the crossing is severe. Wearing these glasses full time can straighten the eyes out, even when reading up close, according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Children often outgrow farsightedness.

Slow Down Severe Myopia

The development of severe myopia -- nearsightedness -- can be slowed when children wear bifocals. A study published by the American Medical Association compared the progression of serious nearsightedness in children who wore single-vision lenses, traditional bifocals or special bifocals with a built-in prism that encouraged eye coordination. At the end of two years, the vision of children who had worn the single-vision lenses was worse than the other two groups. The kids with the prism bifocals had the best sight.

Slow Ordinary Myopia

A two-year study at the University of Houston looked at the use of progressive -- no line -- bifocals to treat children's ordinary nearsightedness. Researches found that the development of the condition slowed, especially when compared with kids who wore single-vision lenses. These results held up even after the bifocal-wearers switched to single-vision lenses during the second year. The effects were small but significant, though researchers do not recommend that all children with myopia adopt bifocals. Instead, these results are seen as a step toward more effective lenses, according to the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

About the Author

Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.