Spooky Contact Lenses May Harm Eyes
Nonprescription, Novelty Contact Lenses Can Damage Eyes
Oct. 28, 2003 -- Transforming your eyes from green to ghoulish
with novelty contact lenses may seem like good Halloween fun, but experts say
nonprescription contact lenses can play dangerous tricks with your
A new study documents six cases of teenagers and young adults
who developed serious vision-threatening problems as a result of using these
lenses. One 14 year old required a corneal transplant after developing a
serious infection, and another 24-year-old woman was left legally blind in one
Concerns about the risks associated with the novelty lenses --
which are usually purchased from unlicensed vendors on the Internet or at flea
markets and specialty shops -- have also prompted the FDA to issue a warning to
"Although decorative contact lenses may
seem festive during this time of year, consumers should understand that these
lenses can seriously harm the eye if they are used without appropriate
supervision by an eye care professional," says FDA Commissioner Mark B.
McClellan, MD, PhD, in a news release.
Novelty Contacts May Put Eyes at Risk
In an article published in the October issue of Eye &
Contact Lens, researchers described the potential dangers of using
illegally sold costume contact lenses.
"Many people mistakenly think decorative contact lenses are
just like sunglasses. If you're not wearing the lenses to correct refractive
errors, you don't need a prescription," says researcher Thomas L.
Steinemann, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve
University in Cleveland, in a news release.
"This is a dangerous misconception. People who wear lenses
purchased from unlicensed vendors have been given no instructions and often
practice risky behavior," says Steinemann. "They don't clean or
disinfect the lenses. They sleep in them. They even swap them with their
Researchers say all contact lenses increase the risk of
infections in the eye because they prevent normal amounts of oxygen from
reaching the eye but these risks are much higher in over-the-counter contact
lenses because none of the safety procedures are followed.
The FDA says it has also received reports of corneal ulcers
associated with wearing decorative contact lenses longer than the recommended
period. These ulcers can progress rapidly and, if left untreated, can lead to
infection, scarring of the cornea, vision impairment, or even blindness or eye
The FDA says other risks associated with
the use of novelty contact lenses include:
Conjunctivitis (a highly contagious infection of the eye)
- Corneal edema (swelling of the cornea)
- Allergic reactions and corneal abrasion caused by poor lens fit
- Reduction in visual acuity (sight)
- Contrast sensitivity and other problems that can interfere with driving and
Don't Play Tricks With Your Eyesight
"By purchasing contact lenses over the counter, you would
abrogate every single safety guarantee in place," says H. Dwight Cavanagh,
MD, who wrote an editorial that accompanied the study, in a news release.
"If you want blue or orange or yellow eyes, you can have
it. Just go to a licensed professional to get them," says Cavanagh, who is
vice chairman of ophthalmology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical
Center at Dallas. He says many eye care professionals also offer contact lenses
that aren't vision correcting and are just for fun.
The FDA has also sent letters to Yahoo! and the online auction
web site eBay to alert them of the risks of novelty contact lenses distributed
without the involvement of an eye care professional and requested their
assistance in preventing improper online sales.