With Halloween drawing near, wearing decorative contact lenses to accent a great vampire or Catwoman costume may seem like harmless fun, but the American Academy of Ophthalmology reminds consumers that serious eye disorders can be caused by over-the-counter lenses. Those most likely to buy decorative contacts-teens and young adults- are also most likely to be unaware of the risks these devices can pose to their eyes and life-long visual health.
“Some Internet sites market decorative contacts as if they were cosmetics, advertising ‘One size fits all,’ and ‘No need to see an eye specialist.’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Thomas Steinemann, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a clinical correspondent for the Academy. “Many ophthalmologists have probably seen the damage these over-the-counter lenses can cause. Inflammation and pain are common; serious problems such as corneal abrasions and even blinding infections also occur.”
Although over-the-counter sales of nonprescription “plano” cosmetic lenses have been illega in the United States since 2005, decorative contacts are still widely available in retail stores and on the Internet. They are especially popular at Halloween as accessories to costumes. In 2005, an Academy-backed federal law classified all contact lenses as medical devices and restricted their distribution to licensed eye care professionals.
To protect your eyes, contact lenses must be fitted by an eye care professional who will instruct you on correct use. Corneal shapes vary even among people with normal vision, so if only one size is sold, some people may end up with lenses that do not fit properly.
“If you wear a tight pair of shoes you may end up with a blister, but if you wear tight pair of lenses you could end up with a blinding eye infection,” added Dr. Steinemann.
Because consumers buying over-the-counter are not educated on proper use and care of decorative contacts, they do not realize the harm that can result from improper use.
For more information about cosmetic lenses, go to geteyesmart, the Academy’s public Web site.
American Academy of Ophthalmology