Optical Alerts Public to Dangers of Unauthorized Cosmetic CLs on Halloween

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NEW YORK—As the Halloween holiday approaches, eyecare associations, government organizations and news outlets are warning the public of a common danger—the purchase of unauthorized cosmetic contact lenses. Used often as part of costumes or dress-up outfits, the contact lenses available to consumers in various colors, tints or images are not only illegal, but dangerous when not properly fitted and sold by an eyecare professional.

In a statement from the American Optometric Association (AOA), the message is clear: Don’t Buy Contact Lenses from Any Store or Website if it Doesn’t Require a Prescription. Along with warning the public that selling lenses without a prescription is illegal and can put customers’ eye health at risk, the article reinforces that all contact lenses are classified as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and that, whether for vision correction or for cosmetic purposes, all require a valid prescription from an eyecare professional.

The AOA further points to their 2013 American Eye-Q consumer survey, findings of which showed that 17 percent of Americans have worn decorative, non-correcting lenses as part of a costume or other cosmetic reason, and that 24 percent of those who purchased such lenses did so from a source other than an eye doctor, a great concern to optometrists.

"When purchased over-the-counter, decorative contact lenses can put people at risk for bacterial infections, allergic reactions, or even significant damage to the eye's ability to function, with the potential for irreversible sight loss. Sadly, numerous cases of serious harm have been documented," said Glenda Secor, OD, chair of the AOA's Contact Lens and Cornea Section. "If you can walk in off the street, or log on to a website and buy them without verification of your prescription, the lenses are not being sold legally."

The American Academy of Ophthalmology also addressed the topic on their eyeSmart website, providing information on the risks associated with non-prescribed cosmetic lenses, tips on safe contact lens wear and links for the FDA warning to consumers on colored contact lenses and the FDA's database of approved contact lenses. The page also provides "over-the-counter contact lens nightmares" describing consumers' experiences with vision loss or visual impairment which resulted from cosmetic contact use.

Educational materials on the topic have also been provided by eyecare practices, such as Eye-Q Vision Care, Inc. The Fresno, Calif.-based practice recently posted a Halloween-themed infographic, “Halloween Contact Lenses – Buyer Beware!” depicting the dangers of cosmetic contact lens use.