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Halloween Health Horror Story: Why Decorative Contact Lenses Are Scarier than Jason, Chucky and Michael Myers

Halloween is just around the corner, and that means amazing costumes are
in order! But be warned: Every year around this spooky time, eye doctors
see an uptick in eye injuries, irritations and infections caused by decorative,
over-the-counter (OTC) contact lenses. So, if you’re thinking about
enhancing your Halloween zombie or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume
with ghoulish or colored contact lenses, read this story first.

According to Key-Whitman Eye Center’s therapeutic optometrist Martin
L. Faber, O.D., “We always see a few cases during the Halloween
season, where people who wore decorative OTC lenses come in with eye injuries
or irritation. If you multiply that number by the number of eye doctors
in the U.S., that’s a pretty big chunk of completely preventable
eye problems.”

Delaying treatment can lead to eye infections and blindness

One of the most serious risks people face when wearing OTC lenses is experiencing
corneal ulcers. This condition results when a bacterial infection occurs under the lens
and can cause pain, discomfort and even blindness. Corneal ulcers can
be especially problematic if the patient doesn’t seek treatment
immediately.

“This occurred to a patient of mine who visited a local nail salon
where she purchased decorative contacts. She was given no instruction
on how to insert, remove or sterilize the lenses, and consequently ended
up with corneal ulcers” shares Dr. Faber.

“Unfortunately, the young lady couldn’t get the lenses out
of her eyes and delayed getting treatment because she was afraid to tell
her parents. We were able to get the infection under control, but unfortunately,
she ended up being legally blind in one eye,” Dr. Faber cautions.

OTC lenses can also cause corneal abrasions and conjunctivitis

Other potential OTC contact lens dangers include
corneal abrasions, which can result when the lenses injure or scratch the eyes. This can
occur when lenses don’t fit the eye properly (contacts should never
be considered a one-size-fits-all device), and/or people don’t receive
(or follow) proper instructions on how to insert, remove and sterilize
the lenses. Dr. Faber warns, “You’re very unlikely to get
the proper fit or care instructions if you purchase contacts over the
counter.”

Conjunctivitis is a generic infection of the eye and often arises with OTC contact lenses.
“Often, businesses that sell these lenses without a prescription
will allow people to demo the lenses before they buy them, and then repackage
and resell them to other people without proper sterilization,” says
Dr. Faber.

If you experience any of the following symptoms after wearing any type
of contact lenses, Dr. Faber encourages you to see an eye doctor right away:

  • Inability to remove contact lenses.
  • Eye pain.
  • Inflammation.
  • General redness that doesn’t go away, with increasing pain.
  • Light sensitivity (occurs due to exposed nerve endings).
  • Bumps on the eyelids.

Avoid contact lens suppliers that don’t require a prescription

“Along with nail salons, decorative lenses often show up at flea
markets and novelty shops. Because it’s illegal to sell contact
lenses without a doctor’s prescription, many of these sources will
sell the lenses for a short period of time (i.e. Halloween season) so
they don’t get caught breaking federal law and can avoid a hefty
fine,” Dr. Faber says.

The prevalence of decorative OTC lenses has grown in recent years following
the advent and popularity of disposable lenses. Previously, you could
only purchase contacts through an eye doctor. Disposable lenses need to
be purchased more frequently than conventional soft or hard lenses, so
the FDA adjusted regulations so consumers would have easier access to
prescription contacts.

Because contacts are so commonplace today, Dr. Faber finds that “many
consumers are unaware that lenses are not a cosmetic, but rather a medical
device that is regulated by the FDA. It is illegal to sell contact lenses
without a prescription and any supplier who doesn’t require a prescription
is breaking the law.”

An eye doctor can fit and prescribe safe, decorative lenses for you

Dr. Faber isn’t suggesting that people avoid decorative lenses altogether,
he just cautions that you should do so under an eye doctor’s care.
He advises consumers to “schedule a contact lens fitting with a
licensed eye doctor who can issue a written prescription, and then you
can have it filled by an authorized seller. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist
will allow you to try on a variety of trial lenses to ensure the lenses
fit appropriately and educate you on proper lens care.”

According to Dr. Faber, “The most important part of a lens fitting
is the relationship the patient builds with the eye doctor. Everyone should
see an eye doctor for an
annual eye health exam to monitor overall eye health. Your doctor will gladly fit you with safe,
prescription, decorative lenses and can be a resource to you whenever
vision concerns arise.”

Photo Source: iStock for Getty Images

Posted in: Contact Lenses, Eye Health

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