Halloween Warning: ‘Decorative’ Contacts Can Damage the Eye, Expert Cautions

Sure, it seems like those nonprescription contact lenses are the ultimate finishing touch on a Halloween costume: even your eyes are dressed up. But “decorative” contacts that make your eyes look like those of werewolves, cats, and vampires can cause permanent damage, cautions one eye expert. The lenses can cause serious eye infections, and possibly permanent vision loss.

Even though over-the-counter decorative contact lenses are illegal, lots of people use them at Halloween, buying them through the Internet, at beauty salons, convenience stores, flea markets, and even gas stations.  Call me crazy, but a good rule of thumb might be to not put things in your eye that you find at a flea market.

“There is no such thing as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ contact lens,” Dr. Randall Fuerst, chairman of the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) contact lens and cornea section, said in an association news release.

“Consumers who purchase lenses illegally, without a prescription or without consultation from an eye doctor, put themselves at risk for serious bacterial infections, allergic reactions or even significant damage to the eye’s ability to function, with the potential for irreversible sight loss,” Dr. Fuerst said.

A recent survey by the American Optometric Association found that 18 percent of Americans wear noncorrective, decorative or colored contact lenses. Of those, 28 percent said they bought the lenses without a prescription and from a source other than an eye doctor, the association reports.

“Decorative contact lenses carry the same risks as corrective contact lenses,” Dr. Fuerst said. “Because of this, it’s important for consumers to obtain a prescription and familiarize themselves with the information available from an eye doctor to reduce the risk of infection.”

A proper medical eye and vision examination ensures that contact lenses are suitable for a person, that the lenses are properly fitted and that the patient knows how to care for their contact lenses.

Since 2005, federal law requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate decorative lenses as medical devices, similar to prescription contact lenses.  However, decorative lenses continue to be illegally marketed and distributed directly to consumers through a variety of sources other than the doctor’s office. Consumers also report purchasing them at retail outlets, where they are sold as fashion accessories.

The AOA warns consumers not to purchase contact lenses from gas stations, video stores, or any other vendor not authorized by law to dispense contact lenses. The FDA also cautions contact lens users that anyone who suffers redness, pain, or decreased vision after using any contact lenses (including prescription ones) should see an ophthalmologist or optometrist right away.

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

Read more from Joslyn at Babble Pets and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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