Wearing these popular accessories can cause serious eye injuries and lead to permanent vision loss
SAN FRANCISCO — As people across the country start shopping for their perfect Halloween costume and are tempted to complete their look with costume contact lenses bought without a prescription, ophthalmologists – medical doctors specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions – are warning consumers that doing so can lead to permanent vision loss.
Although the practice has been illegal since 2005, today cosmetic contact lenses are still sold in shops and via online retailers to customers who are unaware that wearing these devices can result in serious eye injuries. The American Academy of Ophthalmology warns that the lenses, which may not be manufactured to meet federal health and safety standards, can cause injuries such as cuts and open sores in the protective layer of the iris and pupil corneal abrasions and ulcers and potentially blinding painful bacterial infections keratitis. These injuries can require serious eye surgeries such as corneal transplants, and in some cases lead to permanent vision loss. One study found that wearing cosmetic contact lenses increased the keratitis risk by more than 16 times.
Federal law classifies all contact lenses as medical devices and restricts their distribution to licensed eye care professionals. Illegal sale of contact lenses can result in civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation.
"What happens to people's eyes after just one evening of wearing non-prescription costume contact lenses is tragic," said Thomas Steinemann, M.D., professor of ophthalmology, MetroHealth Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "It all could have been avoided if these patients just took a little extra time to obtain a prescription and only wore FDA- approved lenses. I understand how tempting it is to dress up your eyes on Halloween without a prescription and using over-the-counter lenses, but people should not let one night of fun ruin their vision for a lifetime."
To safely wear decorative contact lenses this Halloween or any time of year, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends following these guidelines:
- Only buy decorative contact lenses from an eye care professional such as an ophthalmologist or a retailer that requires a prescription and sells FDA-approved products.
- If you don't already have a contact lens prescription, obtain a valid prescription and eye exam from an ophthalmologist or optometrist, a health care professional who provides primary vision care ranging from sight testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment and management of vision changes.
- Even for those with perfect vision, an eye exam and prescription are mandatory in order to fit the right size contacts. Do not fall victim to false advertising claims and lenses labeled as "one size fits all" or "no need to see an eye specialist."
- Follow the directions for cleaning, disinfecting and wearing the lenses. Contacts that are left in for too long or that are not properly cleaned and disinfected can significantly increase the risk of an eye infection.
- Never share contact lenses with another person or wear expired lenses.
- If you notice redness, swelling, excessive discharge, pain or discomfort from wearing contact lenses, remove the lenses and seek immediate medical attention from an ophthalmologist. Eye infections like keratitis can quickly become serious and cause blindness if left untreated.
For more information on decorative contact lens safety or to find an Eye M.D., visit EyeSmart.
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About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology, headquartered in San Francisco, is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons — Eye M.D.s — with more than 32,000 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three "O's" – ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who has the education and training to treat it all: eye diseases, infections and injuries, and perform eye surgery. For more information, visit www.aao.org.
The Academy's EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos™ is the Spanish-language version of the program. Visit EyeSmart or OjosSanos to learn more.
 Sauer, A., & Bourcier, T. 2011. Microbial keratitis as a foreseeable complication of cosmetic contact lenses: A prospective study. Acta Ophthalmologica 89 5, pp. e439-e422. DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-3768.2011.02120.x