As Halloween Approaches, Optical Industry Warns Against Use of Illegal Contact Lenses

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NEW YORK—Halloween is just around the corner and as people are getting their costumes ready, the optical industry is once again reminding everyone about the dangers of wearing illegal contact lenses. Cosmetic contact lenses, which come in different colors and are meant to add to that cat, witch or zombie costume, are FDA-regulated medical devices that must be prescribed and measured by an eyecare professional.

According to Prevent Blindness, because all contact lenses, prescription or cosmetic, are classified as medical devices, it is illegal for anyone to sell them without a prescription. Prevent Blindness—which declared October as Contact Lens Safety Awareness Month—recommends that after obtaining a valid prescription, contact lens wearers follow an eyecare professional’s instructions about care and cleaning of lenses and to see an ECP for regular follow-up exams.

“We encourage anyone who is interested in wearing contact lenses to visit an eyecare professional first,” said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “And, we want to remind all contact lens wearers to remember to take the necessary steps every day to care for them safely to keep their eyes healthy for years to come.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology also warns the public that, while it is illegal to sell non-prescription contact lenses, they can still be purchased at beauty supply stores, costume shops or on the web. Falsely advertised as “one-size-fits-all” or “no prescription necessary,” these lenses can cause serious eye damage. Over-the-counter lenses can scratch your eye if not fitted or sized correctly, create eye sores called corneal ulcers due to poor maintenance, cause eye infections and can lead to blindness, the Academy stated.

The American Optometric Association is calling to task online vendors, brick-and-mortar shops and others, who illegally distribute corrective, novelty or any other type of contact lenses without a valid prescription, which is a violation of the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act (FCLCA) and Contact Lens Rule.

Throughout October, the AOA will run the 31 in 31 campaign which confronts vendors and informs them of the regulatory requirements related to the sale of contact lenses in the U.S. Every day in October, the AOA will issue a letter to a contact lens seller previously flagged for suspicious business practices or apparent disregard of the law.

"This is an incredibly important initiative," said Paul Velting, OD, AOA Contact Lens and Cornea Section member helping to lead the AOA's Watchdog Group on contact lenses. "Now, more than ever, it seems companies are willing to find and exploit loopholes in the FCLCA to make a sale. Every company we can get to change policy is potentially hundreds to thousands of patients with decreased risks of sight-threatening complications."

For more information on illegal retailer or incident reporting, contact AOA's associate director for Coding and Regulatory Policy Kara Webb at kcwebb@aoa.org.