SAN FRANCISCO-As Halloween approaches, you may be thinking about finishing off your costume with zebra-striped or glow-in-the-dark decorative contact lenses or maybe the newest fad, circle lenses. But do you know the risks associated with these lenses? Obtaining decorative lenses without a prescription is dangerous and illegal. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (Academy), along with its partners the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS), and the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists (CLAO), warn consumers that purchasing any contact lenses without an eye examination and a prescription from an eye care professional can cause serious eye disorders and infections, which may lead to permanent vision loss.
“Many people believe that decorative lenses don’t require the same level of care or consideration because they can be purchased over-the-counter or on the Internet,” says Thomas Steinemann, MD, professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a clinical correspondent for the Academy. “This is far from the truth. In fact, permanent eye damage can occur from using over-the-counter lenses. Any type of contact lens is a medical device that requires a prescription and proper fitting by an eye care professional.”
Buying decorative lenses without the supervision of an eye care professional is dangerous, and using them can lead to pain, inflammation and serious infections. A patient of ophthalmologist Richard Johns, MD, Laura Butler of Parkersburg, WV, purchased decorative lenses from a souvenir shop while on vacation. “When I made this purchase, I was unaware of the dangers involved in buying these lenses over-the-counter or of the harm that could result,” Butler said. “After wearing the contacts for a total of 10 hours, I experienced extreme pain in both eyes. Because I had not been properly fitted by an eye care professional, the lenses stuck to my eye like a suction cup. Removing them resulted in a corneal abrasion and a painful infection. I was in severe pain and on medication for four weeks and couldn’t see well enough to drive for eight weeks. I now live with a corneal scar, vision damage and a drooping eye lid. I want to share my story in the hopes that others will not have to live through this nightmare.”
Halloween is a popular time for people to use decorative contact lenses, but it’s important to take proper care year-round. Websites often advertise decorative contacts as if they were cosmetics, fashion accessories or toys. With whimsical packaging and names like Dolly Eyes, their targets are often teens and young adults. Claims such as “one size fits all,” and “No need to see an eye specialist” are false advertising. “Consumers need to know that permanent eye damage can occur from using over-the-counter lenses,” Dr. Steinemann said. “Personally, I have seen far too many serious cases in both children and adults from using decorative lenses. My most recent case was a patient who was only 12 years old.”
To protect the eyes, an eye care professional measures each eye in order to properly fit contacts for the patient. Lenses that are not properly fitted may scratch the eye or cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea. Additionally, the eye care professional instructs the patient on appropriate contact lens care. Lenses that are not cleaned and disinfected increase the risk of eye infection. Not all patients are good candidates for contacts (prescription or decorative lenses). Patients who have frequent eye infections, severe allergies, dry eye that is resistant to treatment, a very dusty work environment, or an inability to handle and care for the lenses may not be suitable candidates for contacts. An eye care professional can assist in helping a patient make a decision that is right for them.
In 2005, a federal law was passed that classified all contact lenses as medical devices and restricted their distribution to licensed eye care professionals. Illegal sale of contacts can result in civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation. Any contact lens is a medical device that requires proper fitting by an eye care professional. For more information about contact lenses, visit www.geteyesmart.org.
About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The Academy is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons—Eye M.D.s—with more than 29,000 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three “O’s” – opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases and injuries, and perform eye surgery. To find an Eye M.D. in your area, visit the Academy’s Web site at www.aao.org.
About American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus
AAPOS is the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. The organization’s goals are to advance the quality of children’s eye care, support the training of pediatric ophthalmologists, support research activities in pediatric ophthalmology, and advance the care of adults with strabismus. More information can be found at www.aapos.org.
About Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists
The Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists (CLAO) is a not-for-profit professional association that was founded in 1963 and incorporated in 1964. CLAO’s mission is to advance quality medical eye care for the public by providing comprehensive ophthalmologists and other eye care professionals with education and training in contact lenses and related eye care science. More information can be found at www.clao.org.
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