American Academy of Ophthalmology warns about the risk of wearing contact lenses without a prescription
SAN FRANCISCO — Decorative contact lenses can add just the right amount of creepy to your Halloween costume. But wearing costume contact lenses without a prescription can set you up for serious eye infections or permanent vision loss. That's why the American Academy of Ophthalmology wants to remind people to only buy decorative contact lenses from retailers who require a prescription and sell FDA-approved products.
Every year, ophthalmologists treat patients who suffer painful, blinding complications from wearing contact lenses that have not been properly fitted by an eye care professional. People like:
- Julian, 17, is blind in one eye after wearing contact lenses without a prescription. Ten surgeries couldn’t reverse the damage he suffered.
- Laura, 20, has a permanent scar and decreased vision after wearing her lenses for just 10 hours.
- Robyn,14, required a corneal transplant after wearing costume lenses for a few hours.
While it is illegal to sell non-prescription contact lenses, they can still be purchased at beauty supply stores, costume shops or on the web. Falsely advertised as “one-size-fits-all” or “no prescription necessary,” these lenses can cause serious eye damage.
Even if you have perfect vision, you still need to obtain a valid prescription and eye exam from an ophthalmologist – a medical doctor who treats eye conditions and diseases – or optometrist. Contact lenses are a medical device.
There are four ways over-the-counter decorative contact lenses can seriously harm your eyes:
- Over-the-counter lenses can scratch your eye
If not fitted and sized for the person wearing them, contacts can easily scrape the cornea, the outer layer of the eye. Corneal abrasions can cause redness, light sensitivity, discharge, pain or a sensation that something is lodged in the eye.
- Poorly maintained contacts can cause sores
Costume contact lenses can create an eye sore called a corneal ulcer. Ulcers often appear as a white dot on the iris, the colored part of the eye, and require treatment. After an ulcer heals, many patients are left with a significant scar on their cornea that decreases their vision.
- Non-prescription contacts can lead to eye infections
Both corneal abrasions and ulcers create openings in the eye, making them more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses. All of these organisms can cause serious eye infections known as keratitis.
- Non-prescription contacts can lead to blindness
Sometimes scarring from an infection is so bad, a corneal transplant is required to restore vision. The most extreme cases can end in blindness.
Contact lenses, including nonprescription lenses, are not costume jewelry. The are FDA-regulated medical devices that must be prescribed and fitted by an eye care professional. And they must be cared for with the same hygiene rules as regular contact lenses.
“Don’t lose your vision to cheap contact lenses,” warns Thomas L. Steinemann, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “If you must have contact lenses to complete your Halloween costume, avoid over-the-counter ones at all costs. Protect your vision by getting prescription lenses from an eye health professional.”
The Academy encourages the public to watch and share its “No Prescription, No Way” public service announcement that shows the serious damage that these non-prescription costume contact lenses can inflict on the eyes.
Visit the Academy’s EyeSmart® website to learn more about contact lens safety.
About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. A global community of 32,000 medical doctors, we protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public. We innovate to advance our profession and to ensure the delivery of the highest-quality eye care. Our EyeSmart® program provides the public with the most trusted information about eye health. For more information, visit aao.org.