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 the risk for developing keratitis was 16 times higher for people who wear cosmetic contact lenses.
“What happens to people’s eyes after just one evening of wearing non-prescription costume contact lenses is tragic,” says Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a professor of ophthalmology at MetroHealth Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a clinical spokesman 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.