Just because contact lenses are easily accessible and affordable these days doesn't mean they should be treated as cosmetic items. Because of massive advertising campaigns by contact lens manufacturers in the past, many have come to think of contact lenses as beauty and lifestyle enhancements instead of the medical devices that they are. We can change our eye color at will with a choice of lenses widely available in shades of lavender, green, brown, blue and more. With Halloween around the corner, the opportunity to change looks with a contact lens is enticing, but may be potentially dangerous for eyes.
As the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Eye M.D. Association, warns: Halloween is that magical time of year where humans are transformed into ghosts, ghouls and goblins. There is nothing magical however, when it comes to illegal costume contact lenses, they warn.
"Costume contact lenses can be a whole lot of fun," said Academy spokesperson Thomas L. Steinemann, MD. "But, just like contact lenses used to correct refractive errors, they need to be fitted and handled properly to avoid problems such as eye infections which can lead to vision loss."
Black market contact lenses have become more and more popular in recent years, with designs on the lenses ranging from bats and spiders for Halloween to major-league football team logos. They are especially popular among teens, who may not know the risks involved with unsanitary lenses, swapping the lenses, and not having contact lenses fitted to one's eye.
The Academy further warns that serious problems have been associated with illegally sold costume contact lenses purchased from unlicensed vendors such as gas stations, hair salons, flea markets and corner stores. In a report published in Eye & Contact Lens, the clinical journal of the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, Dr. Steinemann cited six cases where people experienced serious problems ranging from infections to corneal abrasions. One 14-year-old patient was hospitalized and needed a corneal transplant following a serious eye infection.
"Contact lenses are controlled by the same law as prescription drugs," says Michael Ward, director of Emory Eye Center's Contact Lens Service. "They should only be dispensed by prescription and with proper instructions as to care and use," he says. "Contact lenses are very safe when handled and cared for properly. However, lack of proper hygiene or lens care can put the patient at risk of serious ocular infections. It is not in the patients' best interests to think of them as anything other than a medical device that requires proper disinfection and care. At Emory Eye Center our patients receive tailored instruction as to the use and care of their particular lenses," he says.
"Another problem with these 'fun' lenses is that they often limit the amount of light entering the eye," says Ward. "The visual field is often restricted, making ones' peripheral (side) vision limited. Some lenses are so dark that those wearing them should avoid driving at night," he concludes.
Proper care for contact lenses includes the following guidelines.
Prior to handling lenses:
- Wash hands with non-perfumed, non-deodorant hand soap (Ivory, Neutrogena, Opti-Soak) - Rinse thoroughly and dry with lint-free towel
In the evening: - Clean lenses following removal and rinse - Store overnight in a clean case with fresh disinfecting/storage solution
In the morning: - Rinse the lens case with HOT water following contact lens placement in the eye - Leave the lids off to allow the case to air dry - Once each week the case should be scalded (drop in microwaved water that has come to the boiling point) to shock any microorganisms that may grow in the case
In short, good hygiene and the use of proper lens care products make contact lens wear safe and enjoyable. And remember-avoid those flea market contact lenses.