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American Academy of Ophthalmology Warns of Dangers from Illegally-Distributed Contact Lenses

04/07/2010   09:00:00 AM

SAN FRANCISCO—Although over-the-counter sales of nonprescription cosmetic contact lenses have been illegal in the United States since 2005, these decorative contact lenses are still widely available without prescription in retail stores and on the Internet. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (Academy) warns consumers that wearing these contact lenses improperly can cause serious eye disorders and infections.

"Many people think they don’t need a prescription for decorative lenses,” says Thomas Steinemann, MD, associate 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 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.” 

The pervasive illegal selling of decorative contact lenses was highlighted Monday by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who demanded at a press conference that the illegal distribution of such lenses be halted immediately. Academy member William Ehlers, MD, a Farmington, Conn., ophthalmologist, discovered illegal contacts near the register of his local convenience store and brought their presence and inherent danger to Blumenthal’s attention.

In 2005, an Academy-backed federal law 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.

The Academy reminds consumers that it is false advertising for retailers and Web sites to advertise decorative contacts as if they were cosmetics, claiming “One size fits all” and “No need to see an eye specialist.” To protect your eyes, contact lenses must be fitted by an eye care professional. For more information about the proper wearing and handling of contact lenses, go to www.geteyesmart.org.

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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 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.

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