By: Caroline Pate, OD, FAAO with UAB Eye Care
With the Halloween season upon us, it is a good reminder to bring up the discussion on the dangers of cosmetic contact lens abuse. Today, nearly 41 million adults in the U.S. (16.7%) wear contact lenses as an option for their vision correction. There are also options available for patients who, in addition to wishing to correct their refractive error, can change the look of their eyes with cosmetic contact lenses. There are contact lenses on the market that can enhance the current color of one’s own eyes to make them brighter or more defined, make brown eyes blue, or even make your eyes look like those of a cat, zombie, or glow-in-the-dark reptile for Halloween. Decorative lenses are often sought after for theatrical purposes in order to create a special “look” or put the finishing touches on a costume. Many times, consumers do not understand the risks associated with these lenses. Contact lenses and lens care products are medical devices under regulations through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who oversee their safety and effectiveness. Whether correcting refractive error or not, cosmetic contact lenses fall under the same regulations and require a prescription from an eye care professional, and should never be acquired through vendors such as beauty supply stores, gas stations, flea markets, online trading sites, or pop-up Halloween stores. If a retailer is selling contact lenses without requiring a prescription from an eye care professional, then they are doing so illegally.
Although cosmetic contact lenses can seem to the consumer to serve the purpose as a fashion accessory, wearing these lenses carry the same risks associated with their wear and care as their refractive-correcting counterparts, and should be carefully monitored by an eye care provider. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” contact lens. In a 2014 survey by the American Optometric Association, 11% of consumers without refractive correction have worn decorative contact lenses, and 53% of those individuals said they’d purchased them without a prescription. Dangers of improperly fit cosmetic lenses and consequences of poor lens hygiene include sight threatening complications such as inflammation, infection, scarring, corneal abrasions, blood vessel growth onto the cornea, decreased vision, and even blindness. These risks can be greatly minimized by receiving a proper contact lens fitting with an eye doctor including individualized education on lens care, hygiene, and replacement schedule. Anytime a patient presents with a history of contact lens wear and signs or symptoms such as pain, redness, or decreased vision, it is important that they receive prompt care for early intervention and treatment. Bacterial infections secondary to contact lens abuse can present and amplify rapidly, and lead to serious consequences if left untreated.
To safely wear cosmetic contact lenses, encourage your patients to do the following:
• Get a comprehensive eye examination and contact lens fitting from an eye care professional with proper follow up care.
• Obtain a valid prescription which contains information including lens parameters and expiration date, even for lenses that are not correcting refractive error.
• Never buy contact lenses without a valid prescription.
• Follow the care instructions provided for cleaning, disinfecting, and replacing the lenses.
• Never share contact lenses with anyone.
• If any pain, discomfort, redness, discharge, or decreased vision is noted, it is important to seek immediate medical attention from an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
For more information on the dangers of decorative contact lenses, visit www.ContactLensART.org, a website created by the American Optometric Association, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Entertainment Industry Council to raise public awareness on the illegal and unsafe sales of cosmetic lenses.