Don't let over-the-counter eye accessories turn Halloween into a nightmare, ophthalmologists warn
SAN FRANCISCO — To avoid a real-life Halloween horror story – going blind because of a costume accessory – the American Academy of Ophthalmology is warning the public against wearing costume contact lenses purchased without a prescription. These illegally sold cosmetic lenses may not be sterile and can cause a host of serious eye problems capable of morphing a fun Halloween night into a nightmare.
Tiger eyes, checkered pupils: non-prescription decorative lenses also called cosmetic, costume or plano contact lenses come in many different patterns and colors. In 2005, after reports of them causing eye injuries and infections, the Federal Drug Administration classified all contact lenses as medical devices and restricted their distribution to licensed eye care professionals, effectively banning sales of non-prescription contact lenses. Despite that, these items remain available on the internet, in convenience stores and at flea markets.
Below are four frightening ways that non-prescription decorative lenses can hurt your eyes:
- Scratches – Because over-the-counter lenses are not fitted and sized for the person wearing the contacts, they can easily scrape the outer layer of the eye. The resulting corneal abrasions can cause redness, light sensitivity, discharge, pain, plus the feeling that something is stuck under the eyelid.
- Sores – Costume contact lenses can literally create an eye sore called a corneal ulcer, with symptoms similar to corneal abrasions. The ulcers sometimes appear as a white dot on the iris – the colored part of the eye. When the ulcers heal, they can scar over and can in some cases permanently affect vision.
- Infections – Both corneal abrasions and ulcers create openings in the eye, making them more vulnerable to bacteria, viruses and amoebas. All of these organisms can cause serious eye infections known as keratitis. One study found that wearing cosmetic contact lenses increased the risk of keratitis by more than 16 times.[i] Some infections, such as herpes simplex, can be recurring and difficult to eradicate, while a number of bacteria have become resistant to common antibiotics.
- Blindness – In the most extreme cases, complications from wearing costume contact lenses may require surgery or end in blindness. For instance, extensive scarring from an infection can distort the cornea or make it opaque, requiring a corneal transplant to restore vision.
"I hate to think of all the young people who might be buying these non-prescription contact lenses on Halloween, only to end up with an infection that can ruin their sight forever," said Thomas Steinemann, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who treats multiple cases each year. "There is a reason the FDA regulates the sale of contact lenses, and that's because the over-the-counter versions have been shown to cause serious, irreparable damage to your vision if they're not sterile or fitted to your eyes."
Costume Contact Lens Safety Guidelines
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 – a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions – optometrist or 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.
Note to Editors: Patient Stories Available
To speak with a patient or physician about their experiences with medical complications from costume contact lenses, please email the Public Relations Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the media line at 415-447-0534.
For more information on decorative contact lens safety, visit www.aao.org/eye-health or view the American Academy of Ophthalmology's 30- and 90-second public service announcements.
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, serving more than 32,000 members worldwide. The Academy's mission is to advance the lifelong learning and professional interests of ophthalmologists to ensure that the public can obtain the best possible eye care. For more information, visit www.aao.org.
The Academy is also a leading provider of eye care information to the public. 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.
[i] 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.