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Safety Harbor Optical Blog—by Dr. Shawn Hollander, OD, PA

Halloween “Trick”—Dangers of Buying Decorative Contact Lenses Without a Prescription

October 31, 2014 in Primary Eye Care
Halloween “Trick”—Dangers of Buying Decorative Contact Lenses Without a Prescription

Happy Halloween from Safety Harbor Optical! While tricks and treats will be fun for kids of all ages today, there is one “trick” to avoid—unapproved decorative contact lenses. If you think those vampire eyes will put the finishing touch on your costume, think again. Decorative contact lenses—sold without a prescription—can leave unsuspecting victims with corneal abrasions, infections or even total loss of sight, after just eight hours.

“Although unauthorized use of decorative contact lenses is a concern year-round, Halloween is the time when people may be inclined to use them, perhaps as costume accessories,” explains James Saviola, the Ophthalmic and Ear, Nose and Throat Devices network leader in the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

While prescription and decorative contact lenses are regulated by the FDA, the agency says many beauty salons, costume shops and Internet sites sell contact lenses around Halloween that are marketed as “one size fits all” and available without a prescription. According to a 2013 survey by the American Optometric Association, 17% of Americans have worn decorative contact lenses, and nearly a quarter of those wearers purchased the lenses without a prescription.

The FDA points to the case of Laura Butler, of Parkersburg, West Virginia, who paid $30 in 2010 for a pair of decorative lenses at a souvenir shop and ended up with $2,000 in medical bills. The contacts, she said, “felt fine, but they moved around on my eyes and I had to adjust them with my finger,” Butler told the FDA. Driving home the next day with the contacts on, Butler said she felt a sharp pain in her left eye. “It was such excruciating pain, I had to quickly pull over on the side of the road,” she told the FDA. It took her 20 minutes to remove the contacts, she says, which had stuck to her eyes like suction cups. She said she drove home “with pain that was indescribable.” A trip to the ER and then to an ophthalmologist gave Butler a diagnosis: corneal abrasion. “The doctor said it was as if someone took sandpaper and sanded my cornea,” she told the FDA.

If you want to wear decorative contacts for Halloween, the FDA recommends: 

  • Get an eye exam from a licensed eye-care professional, even if you have 20/20 vision.
  • Get a valid prescription that includes the brand and lens dimensions.
  • Buy the lenses only from an eye-care professional or a vendor that requires prescription information.
  • Follow the directions for cleaning, disinfecting and the time limits on wearing the lenses.

Enjoy a safe Halloween!

Photo credit: Wikimedia 

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