By- Dr. Amy Movius
Halloween costumes aren’t just for trick-or-treaters. Whether young – or just young at heart – dressing up at Halloween is fun! Cosmetic contact lenses of different colors and designs are a costume accessary that is growing in popularity. These lenses do look pretty cool and the selection seems endless. A Google search of “Halloween contact lenses cheap” returned almost 4 million results! Besides on-line, these lenses may be found in beauty supply stores, costume or specialty stores, and even at convenience stores and flea markets. They can also be quite inexpensive. Great, right?
All contact lenses are considered medical devices, and are subject to regulation by the FDA. Even if the lenses aren’t correcting vision, they still need to be prescribed by an eye specialist and fit to your eyes. These lenses also need to be handled, used and cleaned in the same way as corrective contact lenses. Medical complications associated with these cosmetic contacts have been described in many countries – the US, the UK, France, India and others. Infections have been of particular concern, occurring much more commonly and severely with users of cosmetic lenses versus corrective lenses. One study reported that infections were more than 16X as likely with decorative lenses. More than half of these patients had some permanent loss of vision and sometimes these problems happened in just hours.
One author attributed these findings to “a negative feedback loop” in users of these lenses. It goes something like this: many people who buy cosmetic contact lenses have normal vision and are getting them “just for fun”. For this reason they don’t think of having an eye exam and getting a prescription. The sellers of these lenses often provide NO education or instruction on how to use, clean, or otherwise care for the lenses. The users themselves have no independent experience or knowledge of lens usage and hygiene. So the lenses don’t fit, aren’t worn properly, aren’t cared for hygienically, and the wearers don’t recognize and react to problems promptly.
It’s easy to see how buyers of these lenses could assume they are ok for anyone to use. After all, they are innocently marketed as “Fashion”, “Halloween”, “Cosmetic”, “Theatrical”, and “Color” contact lenses. They may also be referred to as “Plano” – meaning there is no vision correction involved, which could be interpreted as “non-prescription”.
If your perfect costume happens to include a pair of decorative lenses, there is a safe way to complete your look. First, you need to get an exam and a fitting for the lenses, even if your vision is perfect. Your provider will give you a prescription that includes the exact type, brand, and expiration of the lenses you should use – one size does not fit all! The appropriate contact lenses can then be purchased from a FDA approved supplier who will also instruct you in their correct use and care. In fact, any vendor selling ANY contact lenses without first getting a prescription as well as the name and contact information of the prescribing doctor is breaking the law. Remember, infections and injuries are risks with any contact lens, so if you’ve done everything right and you still develop eye irritation or discomfort, remove them and see your provider. Eye injury is a scare we can all do without. Happy Halloween!
1. FDA Update: Fashion and safety: What you need to know about decorative contact lenses. AAP News, Vol 34, No 9, September 2013
2. AAP News Parent Plus: Only buy decorative lenses with a prescription. AAP News, Vol 34, No 9, September 2013
3. Sauer and Bourcier; the French Study Group for Contact Lenses Related Microbial Keratitis. Microbial keratitis as a foreseeable complication of cosmetic contact lenses: a prospective study. Acta Ophthalmol. 2011:89:e439-e442
4. American Academy of Ophthalmology, Halloween Hazard: The Hidden Dangers of Buying Colored Contact Lenses Without a Prescription. www.geteyesmart.org
5. American Academy of Pediatrics, Decorative Contact Lenses: What Teens and Parents Need to Know. www.healthychildren.org