Think those decorative contact lenses are a good idea for Halloween? Think again . . .
What’s scarier than Halloween costumes with black sclera contacts or white-out eyes? Permanent vision loss or long-term blurriness. What’s more eye-opening than alluring eye colors and beautiful hues? A viral infection or corneal transplant. Although pretty, fun and seemingly harmless, non-prescription decorative contact lenses can seriously threaten the health of your eyes and affect your eyesight — even permanently.
Cosmetic contact lenses extend beyond colored contacts that change eyes from brown to blue or add a subtle tint. Imagine special-effect lenses that create the Twilight vampire golden-amber glow or Lady Gaga’s wide-eyed, diabolical look. Special-effect lenses can transform your eyes into glow-in-the-dark neon, blood red, funky patterns; and even spider webs, skeletal teeth and smiley faces. These types of decorative contact lenses are typically worn without a prescription and sold online and at beauty-supply stores. Perfect for Halloween costumes and a haunting look, special effect lenses, also known as theatrical or gothic lenses, collect second glances and evoke moods but not without a cost.
If fitted properly by a medical professional, prescription colored contacts are safe to wear; however, cosmetic contacts bought without a prescription are not only illegal, but proven dangerous. Non-prescription decorative contact lenses were declared illegal in 2005 by the Federal government, which emphasized why non-prescription contact lenses are risky. It’s valid to assume an illegal product would be inaccessible or difficult to purchase, yet the opposite is true. Cosmetic contacts are easily available without a prescription and without the supervision of a physician. The lenses are sold online, over-the-counter at novelty stores and even among teenagers at school. Classified by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as medical devices, contact lenses require a prescription ordered by a qualified physician. Notably, if you wear lenses improperly, you’re highly susceptible to bacterial infections, corneal ulcers, excruciating pain and other severe complications. You don’t even have to wear decorative lenses everyday or for an extended period of time for your eyes to have a severe reaction.
Rita Coffee has worn these types of contacts for more than 25 years. Vanderbilt University Medical Center treated Coffee for “burning, swelling and discharge from her left eye” after wearing inexpensive cosmetic lenses without a prescription. Coffee discovered that an “infectious corneal ulcer” was responsible for her unmanageable eye pain and discomfort. Since Coffee’s ophthalmologic emergency, she still suffers from blurriness and scarring. She expects her vision to continue to weaken and lose acuity.
Sharing the unfortunate company of Coffee, Laura Butler also bought non-prescription colored contacts at a specialty store. She was suddenly blinded while driving. CBS News learned that one of the lenses “sliced Laura’s cornea, causing a viral infection.” Ophthalmologist Dr. Thomas Steinemann at the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, stresses that lenses should be professionally fitted to prevent injuries and painful reactions.
Recently, teenagers seem to be the majority of people who are fascinated with the trend of color-changing lenses. Whether teens are using colored contacts as a beauty accessory or to shock onlookers, they aren’t immune to the painful bacterial problems and devastating vision problems. ABC News learned about how colored contacts are making fashion statements for teenagers in Ohio, New York and Maryland. Teens are matching honey-colored contacts to outfits and changing eye colors to emulate celebrities. Typically, teenagers are quick to follow the latest fads and have a mentality that they’re invincible to health dangers, which is why retailers are targeting this impressionable demographic. With sales increasing and more options available, unlicensed vendors and specialty stores, such as Halloween shops and beauty salons, are taking advantage of this young market.
Dr. Steinemann tells ABC News that “kids are selling these contact lenses out of their locker at high school.” Shockingly, teens aren’t even selling decorative lenses that are sold in stores. They’re creating homemade cosmetic lenses using “vegetable dyes found in things like Kool-Aid.”
Fifteen-year-old Robyn Rouse described to ABC News that the morning after she wore colored lenses from a grocery store, she woke up with her eyes closed and couldn’t see. After removing them to sleep, Rouse suffered severe damage and a bacterial infection. She underwent a corneal transplant and her vision is still not the same nearly a year later.
As a foreign body material, contacts always need to be properly fitted to avoid being too tight or too loose. Wearing improperly fitted contacts, eyes can be scratched, infected and ravaged. Bacteria can even puncture a hole and lead to blindness. People can wear bootleg contacts for just one day and end up in the hospital for weeks receiving treatment. Relatively inexpensive and readily available, these contacts can quickly and aggressively scar, limit vision and cause lifelong problems. One prevalent diagnosis includes infectious keratitis, which is inflammation of the cornea and a major cause of blindness. It’s a condition caused by a scratch, excessive dryness, infection and low-quality contact lens care. Topical antimicrobials treat the condition and help prevent visual loss.
Safe Wear and Care
As long as you have a prescription and you’re under the supervision of a qualified physician, wearing colored lenses is safe and legal.
Reputable brands, such as FreshLook contact lenses, provide a wide range of color contact lenses including:
- Colorblends Toric
- Handling Tint
Unlike a beauty salon or Halloween store, top-quality brands offer people who have a valid prescription from an eye care professional lenses that aren’t high risks for infection or other dangerous reactions. A virtual-lens gallery and color studio are additional perks that licensed contact lens distributors provide. Change the color of your eye to Gemstone Green, True Sapphire, Pacific Blue or Caribbean Aqua. For optimal ocular health, regularly have your eyes examined by an eye-care expert and ensure that your prescription describes the proper lens dimensions and recommended brand names.
Properly care for lenses by:
- Washing hands with soap and water before handling lenses
- Rinsing and storing contacts in fresh disinfecting contact solution; not water, saliva, saline solution or re-wetting drops
- Rubbing and rinsing contacts while cleaning
- Replacing a contact lens case at least every three months
Keep in mind actors and musical artists who perform wearing decorative contact lenses are closely monitored by a doctor. Just like you wouldn’t jump out of an airplane without professional supervision, you shouldn’t wear non-prescription cosmetic contact lenses without medical supervision. For uber flashy and funky contact designs, consult with your eye doctor; otherwise you’re seriously compromising your ocular health and eyesight.