Eye health horror story! Don’t sacrifice your sight for a Halloween costume

contact lensesHalloween is fast approaching, which means that many people will be busy perfecting their Halloween costume. Those finishing touches are so important – the pointy hat, vampire teeth and maybe the scary contact lenses. But if you buy these online and don’t get them fitted by a qualified eye health professional you may risk causing long term damage to your eyes.

Unlike ordinary contact lenses the purpose of fashion lenses is to change the appearance of the eye without affecting vision.

These lenses come in various designs which can temporarily make changes to the eye’s appearance. Designs include those that can make the wearer look like a cat, zombie or vampire which leads to heavy demand around Halloween.

Unfortunately many people choose to buy their lenses from retail stores or online, rather than through an optician who will perform a fitting and provide good quality lenses. This puts their eyesight at risk of permanent damage.

What are the risks?

There are several serious risks to your eyesight when wearing contact lenses of any sort, particularly when they have not been prescribed by an eye care professional.

cornea abrasionImproperly fitted lenses can cause:

  • Corneal abrasion (a scratch or cut on the surface layer of the eyeball)
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Allergic reactions including itchy, red eyes
  • Impaired vision
  • Infections like keratosis and conjunctivitis

If while using contact lenses you experience redness, long periods of eye pain or decreased vision remove them and contact a doctor immediately. Left untreated an eye infection can cause you to become permanently blinded.

By following the instructions on contact lenses carefully you can avoid some of these risks. Always ensure that you are correctly cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses your doctor has provided.

Are fashion lenses legal?

In the UK, according to the General Optical Council (GOC), both powered (vision correcting) and zero-powered (cosmetic) lenses can only be legally sold by premises with a registered optometrist, dispensing optician or medical practitioner on site.

The law in the US is similar. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that you should not buy any form of contact lenses from street vendors, beauty stores or novelty stores and that you should always have a prescription.

Despite these laws there are a large amount of outlets selling cosmetic contact lenses illegally.

David Howell, Director of Regulatory Services at the GOC, said: “We are aware of instances of them being illegally sold by outlets such as hairdressers, market stalls and novelty shops. The GOC is taking action against unregistered retailers selling the lenses illegally using its power to prosecute under the Opticians Act.”

If I want lenses what should I do?

Optitian and patient eye testGet fitted – Even if you have perfect vision you should have your eyes examined by an eye care professional to make sure that your lenses fit properly.

Buy from a trusted, legal source – In both the UK and the US contact lenses are classified as medical devices that require prescription, this includes cosmetic lenses.

Follow the instructions with care – Contact lenses need regular cleaning and disinfecting. Always follow the instructions properly in order to minimise the risks associated with wearing them.

Never share your lenses – Not all eyes are the same size and shape. Your contact lenses should be tailored to you and not a friend. Sharing lenses won’t just damage the other person’s eyesight, it also spreads infection.

More information

Read more about purchasing and using contact lenses in the GOC’s patient leaflets.

Watch the FDA consumer update on the improper use of decorative contacts.

[Image source: MNN, Eye Health Web, Healthcare Funding]

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