Decorative contact lenses & Halloween – fun or danger?

Photo courtesy of College of Medicine at Chicago

Photo courtesy of College of Medicine at Chicago

November 1 2012, a 19-year-old woman from the local college came into my office complaining of scratchy, painful, swollen eyes. As the story goes, she had purchased decorative contact lenses online to complement her Halloween costume. Although I’m sure she looked amazing, after a few hours of wearing the contact lenses, her eyes started hurting which progressed throughout the evening. By the next morning she was in my exam chair being treated for Iridocyclitis, a deep swelling of the eye tissues. Luckily, with treatment, she recovered without permanent damage.

Cases like this led the US government to establish regulation that define contact lenses, whether prescription or cosmetic, as medical devices with protections in place to safeguard the public. According to the FDA, “On November 9, 2005, section 520(n) was added to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act) by Public Law 109-96 to establish that all contact lenses are devices under section 201(h) of the Act.”  Click here for more info >>

“Without a valid prescription, fitting, supervision, or regular check-ups by a qualified eye care professional, decorative contact lenses, like all contact lenses, can cause a variety of serious injuries or conditions. For example, lens wear has been associated with corneal ulcer, which can lead rapidly to internal ocular infection if left untreated. Uncontrolled infection can cause corneal scarring, which can lead to vision impairment, and in extreme cases, blindness or the loss of an eye. Other risks include conjunctivitis; corneal edema (swelling); allergic reaction; abrasion from poor lens fit; reduction in visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, and other visual complications that can interfere with driving and other activities.

Because of these risks, contact lenses, including decorative contact lenses that are non-corrective, are not safe for use except under the supervision of a practitioner licensed by law to direct the use of such devices. The Agency believes that these risks cannot be sufficiently controlled unless the wearer does the following under professional supervision:

  • Obtains advice about using contact lenses;
  • Has a valid prescription;
  • Has the lenses fitted properly; and
  • Remains under appropriate professional care for contact lens use.”

Unfortunately, even though the United States government has set in place regulations to control the illegal sale of contact lenses, overseas companies are still selling contact lenses that are being shipped into the country.

~ Dr. Steven Sage Hider, OD
California Optometric Association

The SCARY… and fun truth about colored contact lenses

Colored contact lenses are a popular topic this time of year as many people prepare their Halloween costumes. How fun is it to have a cool accessory like tiger eyes, cat eyes or red or white eyes to complement the most creative of costume? Colored contacts are a great fun option.  There are also many people who like to wear colored contact lenses daily to make their eyes more blue, more green, more brown or a different color all together!

Courtesy of therefromhere on Flickr

Courtesy of therefromhere on Flickr

However, most people do not realize that even contacts worn for cosmetic purposes still pose a potential health risk for the eye if not properly fitted. This is true even if there is no prescription on the lens.  Contact lenses are classified as “medical devices” with the FDA.  Regardless of a corrective prescription, contacts are plastic on the surface of the eye and need to be fit properly and be taken care of properly to lessen the chance of vision threatening infections such as corneal ulcers.

Doctors of optometry perform additional tests above and beyond the glasses and eye health examinations when fitting contacts. We evaluate the size and shape of the cornea, the health of the tear layer and the fitting relationship between the cornea (the outer surface of the eye where the lens sits) and the contacts lens to insure the safest most appropriate lens for each individual patient.  We also educate patients on the best cleaning and wearing regimen for the them.  This greatly reduces any complications associated with contact lens use.

Buying contact lenses without a doctor’s prescription is something that happens with colored contacts often.  This practice leads to rise in vision threatening conditions that could be prevented with a proper contact lens examination. So, buy a different kind Halloween contact lens for each Halloween party this season, but get a prescription first!

~Lisa Weiss, OD, MEd, FCOVDCalifornia Optometric Association