As the Halloween weekend comes closer, teens and
young adults may be in danger of losing their sight or contracting
eye infections through the use of popular over-the-counter contact
lenses, according to the Emory Eye Center (EEC).
These lenses—sold at hairdressers, flea markets and even gas
stations—are decorative and especially popular around Halloween.
Some give wearers the appearance of cat eyes, for example, or have
holiday-specific themes. But whatever their design, lenses purchased
from these sources are dangerous.
A report in the October Eye & Contact Lens, the clinical
journal of the Contact Lens Associa-tion of Ophthalmologists,
cites horror stories experienced by patients who wore these lenses.
One patient is now legally blind; another needed a corneal transplant
and will be monitored the rest of his life. Last year the American
Academy of Ophthalmology reported several cases of infections
and permanent corneal scarring due to lenses sold by a beachwear
vendor in South Carolina, and the stories continue to appear.
"Teens and others need to know that these lenses can pose a
grave danger to their eyesight," said Diane Song, an EEC corneal
specialist. "The lenses they buy over-the-counter are not prescribed
by a medical professional, and as such, do not typically ‘fit’
the wearer. Moreover, dangers of infection are significant, especially
when these teens swap lenses with each other."
"Proper handling and cleaning of lenses is crucial to good
eye health," said Michael Ward, director of EEC’s contact
lens section. "These are medical devices, and these stories
underscore the importance of seeing an eye care professional for
proper fitting and lens care instruction.
"Many people think that if you are wearing the lenses purely
for decorative purpose, you do not need a prescription," Ward
continued. "That’s a common misconception."
The six cases mentioned in Eye & Contact Lens involved
individuals buying the lenses from unlicensed vendors such as those
mentioned above. Purchasers did not receive any instructions on
how to properly care for or wear the lenses, and all were sold individual
contact lenses without a prescription, examination or fitting by
an eye care professional.
Of the six cases, one developed a severe bacterial infection from
trying to take a lens out and needs a corneal transplant; one developed
light sensitivity and pain from continual wearing of over-the-counter
lenses without cleaning them; and a 24-year-old woman became legally
blind from corneal scarring in one eye after she developed conjunctivitis
(pink eye) and was treated for both herpes simplex and bacterial
keratitis. She reported wearing disposable contact lenses for approximately
six months, often sleeping in them.
The report says the demand for decorative contact lenses continues
to increase, particularly among teenage girls and young women, with
consumers spending approximately $180 million on them so far. Colored
contact lenses are one of the fastest growing segments in the contact
lens market. Because of the growing market, the report states: "American
young people remain at risk as a major target of the unauthorized
sale of decorative contact lenses."
Decorative (colored) lenses in and of themselves are not the issue;
they are prescribed by eye care professionals every day. Many who
wear contact lenses prefer the colored version for a variety of
reasons, including the fact that they are easy to see when out of
"We want to remind parents and teens to be mindful of eye safety
during this holiday season," Song said. "Having trendy
decorative contact lenses is not worth losing your sight."