Optometrists warn consumers about Halloween contacts

People who wear decorative contact lenses without medical guidance or without a valid prescription are at risk for ocular inflammation, bacterial infection or mechanical damage to the eye, with the potential for blindness.

The Indiana Attorney General and the Indiana Optometric Association are warning consumers about the dangers especially at this time of year when sales of the illegal lenses tend to increase.

“As Halloween nears it’s important for parents, consumers and business owners to know that the sale of contact lenses without a prescription is illegal,” said Abigail Kuzma, who leads the Consumer Protection Division at the Indiana Office of the Attorney General. “The risks of wearing decorative lenses without a prescription have proven to be great and there is no guarantee they are made safely and properly.”

“Decorative contacts are a concern all year long, but Halloween is a time when people use them most as a way to enhance costumes,” said Dr. Brad Sutton, O.D., Associate Clinical Professor & Service Chief, Indianapolis Eye Care Center. “Consumers who purchase lenses without a prescription or without consultation from an eye doctor put themselves at risk of serious bacterial infection, or even significant damage to the eye’s ability to function, with the potential for irreversible sight loss.”

Since 2005, federal law requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate decorative lenses as medical devices, similar to corrective lenses. In 2009, Indiana passed a law requiring a prescription for contact lenses. Still, decorative lenses continue to be illegally marketed and distributed directly to consumers through a variety of sources, including flea markets, the Internet, beauty salons and convenience stores. Consumers also report purchasing them at retail outlets, where they are sold as fashion accessories.

Risks associated with the improper use of decorative, or prescribed corrective contact lenses include conjunctivitis, swelling, allergic reaction and corneal abrasion due to poor lens fit. Additional medical problems may result in a reduction of visual acuity (sight), contrast sensitivity and other general eye and vision impairments.

The Indiana Optometric Association offers the following recommendations for contact lens wearers:

•    Wear contact lenses only if they are fitted and prescribed by an eye doctor.
•    Do not purchase contact lenses from gas stations, video stores, record shops, or any other vendor not authorized by law to dispense contact lenses.
•    Never swim while wearing contact lenses. There is a risk of eye infection when contact lenses come into contact with bacteria in swimming pool water.
•    Make sure contact lenses are properly cleaned and disinfected as instructed by your eye-care professional.
•    Make sure you wash your hands before handling and cleaning your contact lenses.
•    Never swap or share contact lenses with anyone.
•    Never sleep while wearing contact lenses unless they are extended-wear lenses specifically designed for that purpose.