A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

As Halloween approaches, KAEPS reminding Kentuckians of risks of costume contact lenses

Scary-looking costume contact lenses may elevate your Halloween’s fright factor, but wearing them without a prescription could result in something far more terrifying – blindness. The Kentucky Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons joins the American Academy of Ophthalmology in ensuring the public understands the risks of wearing over-the-counter contact lenses.

It is illegal to sell non-prescription contact lenses, but they can still be easily purchased at places such as beauty supply stores, costume shops and on the Internet. Falsely advertised as “one-size-fits-all” or “no prescription necessary,” these lenses can cause serious eye damage. One young man is now legally blind in one eye after wearing colored contact lenses he bought at a gas station. He has suffered multiple eye infections, a cataract and secondary glaucoma, all of which required surgery.

Ophthalmologists – physicians and surgeons who specialize in medical and surgical eye care – are reminding people of five frightening consequences of ignoring the warnings:

1. Scratches to the eye – If contacts are not professionally fitted to your eye, they can scratch the clear front window of the eye. This is called a corneal abrasion, which is not only painful, but can cause permanent damage. Just ask Laura Butler, who was in severe pain due to corneal abrasions 10 hours after putting in non-prescription lenses, which “stuck to my eye like suction cups.” Treatment often involves medication and patching. Sometimes, damage cannot be reversed. Butler now has a corneal scar, vision damage and a drooping eyelid.

2. Infection – Research shows wearing non-prescription contacts increases the risk of an infection called keratitis by 16 times. Early treatment with antibiotic or steroid drops may preserve vision, but sometimes surgery, such as corneal transplantation, is necessary. Robyn Rouse had to have that surgery after she got an infection from wearing non-prescription lenses she bought at a local store.

3. Pink eye – Never share contacts because doing so can spread germs, causing conditions such as Pink eye. Highly contagious, pink eye treatment depends on the cause, but typically includes some home remedies and antibiotic eye drops.

4. Impaired vision – Whether from a corneal scratch or infection, wearing non-prescription contacts can lead to impaired vision.

5. Blindness – It’s no scare tactic: wearing non-prescription contacts can lead to permanent vision loss. Learn how to take proper care of your contact lenses to avoid dangerous eye infections.

“It’s just not worth it,” said Thomas L. Steinemann, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “One night of looking scary in costume lenses is not worth losing your eyesight. If you must have contact lenses for any reason, do not buy over-the-counter lenses. Protect your vision by getting prescription lenses from an eye health professional.”

“Contact lenses (CL) are a foreign body in the eye,” said Woodford Van Meter, M.D., a corneal specialist at University of Kentucky Healthcare and KAEPS board member. “With appropriate fitting and instructions under the care of a licensed practitioner, CL can be safely worn and well tolerated in the eye. But CL that are ill-fitting or improperly cared for can cause mechanical (corneal abrasions, corneal edema) or chemical (infections, toxicity) injury to the cornea. Even costume contact lenses should be fit and used under the care of a knowledgable eye care provider.”

The Academy encourages the public to watch and share its “No Prescription, No Way” public service announcement that shows the serious damage that these non-prescription costume contact lenses can inflict on the eyes.

Visit the Academy’s EyeSmart website to learn more about contact lens safety.

From Kentucky Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons

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