Woman wearing decorative contact lenses

From athletes to pop stars and Halloween costumes to fashion accessories, decorative contact lenses have caught the eye of many people. Not surprisingly, cosmetic contact lens sales increase significantly at Halloween as many look for that unique detail to enhance a costume. But, unfortunately, ophthalmologists say they also see a significant increase in eye injuries to accompany increased wear of decorative lenses.

What types of eye problems can decorative lenses cause?

According to eyeSmart, one study reported 13,500 emergency room visits per year for teenagers and children wearing decorative lenses. Those injuries include:

  • Painful bacterial infections (keratitis)
  • Scratched corneas
  • Cuts & open sores on the iris
  • Permanent vision loss

In fact, 16 times more costume contact lens wearers experience a severe bacterial infection of the eye than individuals wearing regular, corrective lenses. 60% of those who do experience bacterial infection from decorative lenses also suffer permanent vision loss!

Why are decorative lenses such a problem?

Decorative lenses are often purchased online and in novelty stores, which means they can come with hygiene problems from the start, are often worn by those who don’t know how to care for contact lenses, and can fail to provide a proper fit.

One type of decorative lens, called the circle lens, is illegal in the United States. Circle lenses are larger than other contact lenses and extend into the whites of the eyes. They are often worn by those who want to achieve a “doe-like look” similar to that featured in a favorite pop song video. (Note: The look was digitally enhanced, not contacts.)

One woman, Laura Butler, discovered the danger of decorative contact lenses when she purchased a pair in a novelty shop for $30 and ended up paying $2,000 in medical bills in addition to experiencing severe eye pain and infection and possibly permanent partial vision loss. Butler later discovered she could have purchased two sets of decorative lenses from her optometrist for $50 plus $60 for the eye exam to achieve the same look. (Get more of Laura’s story as reported by CBS News.)

Dangerous bacterial infection caused by over the counter decorative contact lenses.

Do decorative lenses enhance vision?

While much of their use purely involves visual appeal, some professional athletes use colored contact lenses because they say it improves their athletic performance. Examples include Brian Roberts (former professional baseball second baseman), who wore tinted contacts during day games to improve visibility, and A.J. Pierzynski (catcher for the Atlanta Braves), who wears them instead of sunglasses, which can slip, get sweaty and add unwanted bulk.

While research has yet to prove that colored contacts improve performance, Business Insider reports that many athletes in various sports believe they enhance performance.

How can I safely wear decorative contact lenses?

To prevent permanent eye damage and possibly blindness, heed the following advice when purchasing decorative contact lenses:

1. Beware of lawbreakers. The FDA regulates all contact lenses, whether they’re corrective or not. Any vendor who doesn’t require a prescription or your doctor’s contact information is breaking the law. Only buy contacts from a company with FDA clearance to sell contact lenses. The United States has made it illegal to purchase circle lenses.

2. Consult an expert. An eye doctor will ensure your contacts fit correctly and teach proper contact care. Plus, he can diagnose and prevent significant eye disease and damage. Also, utilize follow-up visits to ensure lenses aren’t causing any irritation. Discuss any discomfort, even minor, since damage can be cumulative.

3. Practice proper lens care. Read and follow the instructions accompanying contacts and those given by the doctor. Taking care of contacts prevents significant inconvenience, expensive doctor bills, and permanent damage.

4. Be selfish. When it comes to contact lenses, don’t share. They are not one-size-fits-all; infection can transfer from one person’s eyes to another’s via contacts. Besides, every individual requires a different fit, and ill-fitting contacts can cause eye damage over time.

5. Use your prescription. Getting a prescription from an eye doctor isn’t enough; you have to use it when purchasing contacts. Quality contact retailers will ask for this prescription and your eye doctor’s name and phone number.

Also, know the signs of eye damage, which include redness, pain that doesn’t go away, and decreased vision. Remove contacts, and see an eye doctor immediately if you notice any signs of eye damage.

Having eyes like a cheetah or your favorite rock star may seem fun, but purchasing from an unauthorized seller is dangerous. Leaving your eye doctor out of the mix can easily result in an agonizing recovery process, partial vision loss, and even blindness!

Be smart about what you put into your eyes to help ensure your good eye health for a lifetime.

Eye healthSafety tips

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