Halloween hazard: Non-prescription lenses cause eye damage

halloween contact

Halloween contact illustration/photo submitted

By Michael Williams

Colored contact lenses enhance Halloween costumes. Consumers can purchase them over the Internet that resemble cat eyes, blood-drenched vampire eyes and other themes that add a spooky touch to an outfit. Doctors with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, however, warn against the use of such devices citing substantial risk of permanent eye damage.

According to Dr. Thomas Steinemann, few people understand the risks associated with these novelty devices. “Most people don’t realize that these decorative lenses do not require the same level of care or consideration as a standard contact lens because they can be purchased over-the-counter or on the Internet,” said Steinemann. “This is far from the truth.”

Laura Butler was one such person that experienced an injury due to novelty eyewear. She purchased a pair and placed them in her eyes. Within 10 hours, she experienced extreme pain. She was told by an emergency room doctor that the lenses were not properly fitted to her eye. As a result, Butler suffered severe eye infection, a scar on her cornea and damaged vision. She now has a drooping eyelid. She wasn’t able to drive for eight weeks.

According to the AAO, it is illegal to sell colored contact lenses without a prescription in the United States. All contact lenses are medical devices that require a prescription and proper fitting by an eyecare professional. Retailers that sell contacts without a prescription are breaking the law and can be fined $11,000 per violation. Many of the lenses found online or in beauty salons, novelty shops or in pop-up Halloween stores, are not FDA-approved and are being sold illegally.

As a precautionary measure, the AAO recommends that consumers should never buy colored contact lenses from a retailer that does not ask for a prescription. Lenses that are not properly fitted may scratch the eye or cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea. Even if a person has perfect vision, one needs to get an eye exam and prescription from an eyecare professional to wear contact lenses.

To safely wear costume contact lenses for Halloween, follow these guidelines:

  1. Get an eye exam from an ophthalmologist—an eye doctor—who will measure each eye and discuss proper contact lens care.
  2. Obtain a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements and expiration date.
  3. Purchase the colored contact lenses from an eye product retailer who asks for a prescription.
  4. Follow contact lens care directions for cleaning, disinfecting and wearing the lenses.
  5. Never share contact lenses with another person.
  6. Get follow-up exams with an eye care provider.

If one notices redness, swelling, excessive discharge, pain or discomfort from wearing contact lenses, remove the lenses and seek immediate medical attention from an ophthalmologist.

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