Decorative contact lenses can add distinction to a person’s eyes, giving a Halloween costume an unusual touch sought by many people during this festive season. However, ophthalmologists and experts are warning consumers that using over-the-counter decorative contact lenses is illegal and may harbor a risk for infection.
According to eye care specialists, wearing decorative contact lenses is not always a safe choice to enrich a person’s look.
The Food and Drug Administration said “all contact lenses are regulated medical devices that require a prescription and proper fitting by an eye-care professional,” according to an Oct. 12 Los Angeles Times article.
“Even someone with perfect vision would still require an eye exam and a prescription in order to wear any kind of contacts, including cosmetic lenses,” the Times reported.
Physical harm resulting from not purchasing contacts from a professional ophthalmologist office or clinic has to do with a lack of knowledge regarding necessary care during use of the products.
“If you get a contact lens without going through a doctor, you will have no education in care, cleaning and maintenance,” Hawke Yoon, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, told the Times. “If it does not fit well, it could scratch the cornea.”
Dr. Shelly Chumbler, an opthamologist at Walmart Vision Center in Sterling Heights, Mich., said she is concerned that not having the proper fitting contact lens is the main cause for infection and irritation.
“Every individual has a different diameter and curvature to their eyes,” Chumbler said. “A lens that is too tight is the worst for causing irritation due to the lack of oxygen to the eye. An eye exam is needed once a year to ensure that a person’s contact lenses are fitted properly.”
Specific risks to using over-the-counter contact lenses include corneal abrasions, ocular infections by the herpes simplex virus and infectious ulcers, among others. Although no cases have been documented, HIV transmission may also be a potential risk among those who exchange their contact lenses with others, as stated by the October issue of Eye & Contact Lens, the clinical journal of the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists.
Dr. H. Dwight Cavanagh, vice chairman of ophthalmology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, told sciencedaily.com that the risk for corneal ulcers – the most serious adverse effect of contact lenses – among prescription contact lens users is “1 in 2,500 for daily wear and 1 in 500 if patients sleep in the lenses.” The risks are much higher in over-the-counter contact lenses, according to Cavanagh, because none of the regular safety procedures are followed.
Many Internet contact lens vendors and specialty shops target young girls and women with creative packaging that encourages them to purchase the lenses without a professional’s prescription. The Times reported that Dolly Eyes is an example of a brand that sells these contact lenses to consumers.
“I have never worn decorative contact lenses myself, but I think that they are fun. My sister wears them all the time without any problems,” said Wayne State student Angela Tedesco, 24.
For other students, however, the opinion of decorative contact students was not positive.
“It’s unhealthy and gross. I have never worn them,” said WSU student Kristi Bruce, 18. “It’s like taking a pill from a stranger.”
The problem is not that people use decorative, non-corrective lenses – sometimes called plano- or zero-powered lenses – but that many users buy the devices without a prescription through unlicensed vendors on the Internet or at flea markets and specialty shops.
“All contact lenses, including lenses without corrective power, must receive marketing clearance or approval prior to being sold in the U.S.,” FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson told the Times. “Therefore, any over-the-counter sales are in violation regardless of whether the product has marketing clearance and approval.”
Jefferson said a federal law was passed in 2005 that 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.
Although these risk factors are being publicized, many people will still continue to purchase over-the-counter contact lenses, and it is vital to know how infection can be prevented.
“Never share contact lenses due to the bacteria risk, and never sleep in your lenses,” Chumbler said. “Make sure that a sanitizing solution – such as OptiFree – is used. It is important to check for redness in the eye, as this is the first sign of irritation.”
Wednesday, October 26, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 11:18 am, Fri Apr 5, 2013.