Decorative and cosmetic contact lenses are popular ways to change eye color or add the finishing touch to a Halloween costume with vampire eyes, lizard eyes or other crazy and colorful lenses. But if you don't have a prescription for these contacts (regardless of whether or not they correct your vision), you could be risking your eyesight. Unfortunately, Robyn Rouse learned this the hard way.
When Robyn was 14, many of her friends were changing their eye color by using cosmetic contact lenses. One afternoon, Robyn bought a pair of green contacts at the local corner store and was excited to change her brown eyes to a new shade. She tried them out that night, even though she didn't regularly wear contacts and had not gotten a prescription for these. After having the contacts in for a short time, she took them out and went to bed. The next morning she woke up to strange fluid leaking out of her left eye, but thought nothing of it as she headed out the door to school.
Throughout the day the condition of her eye grew worse, until she finally left school and went home.
"I had to keep a tissue under my eye, because there was so much fluid coming out," Robyn explained. "Then my vision became increasingly sensitive to light, and I realized I needed to leave school."
Feeling feverish, Robyn lay down for a nap until her mother returned from work and realized something was seriously wrong with her daughter's eye. The eye had swollen shut, and was continuing to ooze a thick white discharge. Robyn's mother took her to the emergency room that evening, where Robyn was admitted to the hospital and remained for over a week.
"It's heartbreaking to see a young person go through something as painful as what Robyn experienced," says Thomas Steinemann, M.D., Robyn's ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "It's illegal to sell any contacts without a prescription, but they are still easily available on many websites and in novelty shops, making many consumers assume that it's safe to purchase and use them without prescriptions. It is so important to understand that there is the possibility for serious, long-term damage to your vision if you don't get a prescription for any type of contact lenses, even if you have perfect vision."
The contacts caused an infection in Robyn's eye which led to years of treatment from an ophthalmologist, including a corneal transplant one year after the original injury. Even 12 years after the incident, Robyn continues to have blurry vision in her left eye and must use eye drops on a daily basis to help combat dry eye that was a result of her injury.
"If I could go back to that day, I would never have bought those contacts," Robyn says. "To any other young people thinking of getting decorative contacts, I just want to say: don't do it! It's not worth it. Go to your ophthalmologist, get a prescription, and make sure you are getting contacts from an approved store. Believe me; you don't want to spend a week in the hospital just for one night of dress-up."
Learn more about the frightening ways over-the-counter contacts can ruin your vision.