ALLIE DOUGLASS | The Sun
Dr. Greg Batts experiences the world through a zombie's eyes with a theatrical contact lens Tuesday at Keene Optical on Broadway. Spooky lenses are a popular Halloween accessory, but if not purchased from an eye doctor, the lenses can be questionable on safety and legality.
Colored contact lenses might seem like the perfect addition to this year’s costume, but eye specialists contend non-prescription lenses are scarier for their possible health risks rather than their spooky details.
The faux contact lenses that can alter the wearer’s eye appearance for an abnormal look — sometimes creating an effect of feline-like or vividly colored eyes — tend to make a resurgence in novelty and costume stores as Halloween nears. However, if the lenses aren’t purchased from an eye doctor, the fashionable lenses can fall into a questionable category of both safety and legality.
All contact lenses are classified as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whether they are corrective or decorative, meaning any lenses sold as over-the-counter cosmetic items or online without a prescription aren’t in compliance with FDA regulations.
“Young people and their parents need to be aware that a prescription and proper fitting by a licensed professional is mandatory, even for colored, cosmetic contact lenses,” said Manuel Flores, Illinois’ acting secretary of financial and professional regulation, in a news release. “Good vision and eye health is too important to risk for the sake of eye color.”
The IDFPR has taken steps in recent years to force beauty salons and vendors to stop selling the lenses without a prescription, including levying up to $10,000 in fines for selling without a proper health care license.
In Kentucky, dispensers selling lenses without a prescription or valid order can be fined up to $5,000 for each violation.
According to the American Optometric Association’s 2013 American Eye-Q consumer survey, about 17 percent of Americans have worn decorative lenses for cosmetic purposes, and of those, 24 percent purchased lenses without a prescription or from an eye doctor.
The federal distinction is in place to protect consumers because despite wording on the package, one size does not fit all.
“If the fit’s not correct, you can run a serious risk of infection and ulcers on the cornea, and even risk losing the eye,” said Dr. Greg Batts, optometrist with Keene Optical.
Contact lenses are individually fitted to the wearer’s eyes, factoring in the curvature of the cornea to a tenth of a millimeter, Batts said. Should someone wear a one-size-fits-all novelty lens, an improper fit could lead to corneal abrasions — cuts to the clear dome of tissue covering the iris — that could leave open sores, for risk of infections and blindness. The reverse is also true in that a too-tight fit can starve the eye of necessary oxygen.
The FDA reports other risks include decreased vision, allergic reactions and pink eye. Batts said he commonly sees patients this time of year complaining of issues associated with the lenses, and the conditions can be quite painful.
But scratches aren’t the only concern as the lenses aren’t always stored or created in a sterile environment. Harmful bacteria can be transfered to the cornea which can cause permanent scarring in as little as 24 hours, the FDA reported.
“The chances of an infection are even greater especially it they weren’t stored in a sterile situation,” Batts said.
Consumers can purchase safe decorative lenses after visiting an eye care specialist and obtaining a prescription. Even with corrective lenses, however, it’s important to follow healthy guidelines, Batts said, including properly cleaning the lenses with FDA approved solution, wash hands before handling and never sleep in contact lenses unless they are extended-wear.
Contact Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.