Be scary but safe with decorative contact lenses this halloween
Buying decorative contact lenses without a prescription is risky.
Halloween is all about trick-or-treating for the kids, and for partygoers, finding a creative costume that 'wows.' Some may wear decorative contact lenses as part of their costume. However, if these lenses are bought illegally and without a prescription from your eye doctor, they could lead to serious health issues and potentially damage your eyesight permanently.
While contact lenses provide many vision benefits, they are not risk-free. All contact lenses are classified as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and require a valid prescription, whether they correct your vision or are worn simply for a special occasion.
Unfortunately, some people mistakenly believe that contact lenses are safe if they are just cosmetic and not being used for vision correction. Allergic reactions or bacterial eye infections from contaminated, poorly fitted decorative lenses can occur rapidly when purchased from unauthorized retailers. Serious eye infections can lead to blindness and affect up to one out of every 500 contact lens users per year, and even minor infections can be painful and disrupt day-to-day life.
“Decorative contact lenses may seem like a fun accessory, but if you’re not careful, they can cause serious eye and vision problems,” says AOA President Robert C. Layman, O.D. “Unfortunately, many patients mistakenly believe they don’t need a prescription for decorative contact lenses. It’s extremely important that patients get an eye exam and only wear contact lenses, with or without vision correction, that are prescribed for and fitted to your eyes by a doctor of optometry.”
To stay safe but be scary this Halloween, the AOA offers three easy tips:
- See a doctor of optometry for decorative lenses, even if you have 20/20 vision! They can properly fit your lenses and give you a comprehensive exam to assess total eye health.
- Don’t share your lenses with friends or family members so they can perfect their costume. This will spread bacteria and germs.
- No matter how tired you are after the Halloween festivities, do not sleep in your contacts and give your eyes a break.
See your doctor of optometry immediately if you experience redness, pain, irritation or blurred vision while wearing your lenses.
Continuing reading for information on proper contact lens care.
What is the best contact lens care system?
Contact lens care systems are highly important to the success of wearing contact lenses and also the reduction of risk for infections. A contact lens care system has been carefully selected by a doctor of optometry in order to be compatible with the lens and lens materials you are using as well as the way you wear your lenses.
There are many different types of contact lens care systems, but the basic two types are multipurpose care solutions and hydrogen peroxide care solutions. For gas permeable (GP) lenses, your solutions may contain either a one-step (multipurpose) solution or a two-step (cleaning and soaking) solution or you may also use a hydrogen peroxide solution. These types of solutions all have different recommendations for use depending on the manufacturer. Consult the package insert or a doctor of optometry for the best practices regarding the use of your lens care system.
Lens materials and contact lens solutions can interact, which can also affect the disinfection process. Generic (or store brand) contact lens solutions may have been formulated for older lens materials; new lens materials have different chemical compositions and may not be compatible with generic solutions. If you wish to change your contact lens care system, contact a doctor of optometry first to make sure it is safe for the particular type of contact lenses that you wear.
Do I need to rub my contact lenses when I take them out?
Yes, if you are using a multipurpose solution with soft contact lenses (there are currently no recommended “no-rub” multipurpose contact lens solution regimens). Rubbing the contact lens for between two and 20 seconds, depending on your contact lens care solution, removes deposits and micro-organisms and reduces complications. You follow the rubbing step with a thorough rinse with solution for the time specified by the manufacturer (usually between five and 10 seconds). Recent evidence conclusively demonstrated that rubbing and rinsing the lens after wear provides the safest lens wear for all contact lenses and care systems currently on the market. Some hydrogen peroxide systems contain a rinse step prior to soaking the lenses overnight. Gas permeable (GP) lenses also contain a rub step with hydrogen peroxide systems prior to this rinse step. If you are unsure how to care for your lenses, please refer to the manufacturer’s instructions provided with your care system or contact a doctor of optometry.
Are my solutions good past the expiration date?
Contact lens solutions should never be used after the expiration date listed on the packaging. The United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) has also recommended that solution manufacturers begin labeling solution bottles with a discard date, in addition to the usual expiration date. The discard date is the date the solution should be thrown out after opening (typically within 90 days but varies depending on the manufacturer and solution type). Refer to the solution’s package insert for directions and the discard dates and be sure to ask your optometrist if you are unsure of how to use your prescribed care solutions. It should be noted that preservative-free contact lens solutions (such as unit-dose single vial saline) should be discarded within 24 hours after opening. Saline that is packaged in aerosol containers typically has a longer discard date. Refer to the solution’s package insert for more information or contact a doctor of optometry.
Can I use any lubricants or red-eye drops with contact lenses?
Any eye drops not approved for contact lens wear can cause damage to both the contact lens and the eye. Stay away from drops that claim to “get the red out,” as they typically contain chemicals that may be detrimental to your long-term eye health. Preservative-free eye drops, in general, are very safe to use with contact lenses. Eye drops that contain preservatives can have a toxic effect on the eye and should be avoided. Consult a doctor of optometry about which drops are best for your eyes and contact lens materials.
I only wear my lenses occasionally. How should I store them in the meantime?
Care systems for contact lenses are all very different, and it is important to note how long contact lenses can be safely stored in solution long term before the solution needs to be replaced. Some solutions are only good for 24 hours of storage while others can store lenses for up to one month.
Some soft contact lens multipurpose solutions allow for long-term storage of up to one month in a tightly closed contact lens case. For GP lenses, some GP lens solutions also allow for one month of long-term storage. Some hydrogen peroxide-based systems allow for seven days of long-term storage before the lenses need to be re-disinfected but others are as short as 24 hours of storage time. The night before you are ready to wear your lenses again, it is a good idea to inspect the lens and then re-clean and disinfect it according to the solution manufacturer’s instructions. Check the manufacturer’s recommended storage times on the package insert or contact your doctor for further guidance if needed.
If you only wear lenses on occasion, a daily disposable contact lens may be an option for you. Daily disposable lenses are great for part-time wearers to keep costs down and ensure a safe contact lens wear experience. You don’t need to worry about how long your lenses have been sitting in solution or whether your solution is past its discard date. Daily disposable lenses are also highly portable and convenient. In addition, daily disposable lens wearers experience fewer contact lens complications like infections when compared to other lens replacement schedules.
What are the proper steps to follow each time I remove my contact lens from my eye?
Contact lenses are all taken care of differently; this is a sample of how most soft contact lenses are cared for after removal in conjunction with a multipurpose solution (rub and rinse times may vary depending on solution manufacturer). Hydrogen peroxide care systems are different from below. Keep in mind that daily disposable contact lenses are removed each night and thrown away, so no cleaning is required.
- Always wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling your contact lenses.
- Always work with the same lens first (example: always remove your right lens first or your left lens first).
- Remove one lens and place it in the palm of your hand.
- Apply multipurpose contact lens solution and rub the lens for about 20 seconds on each side (actual rub time depends on the solution manufacturer’s instructions).
- Rinse the contact lens with the multipurpose solution for about 10 seconds on each side (actual rinse time depends on the solution manufacturer’s instructions). Never use tap water to rinse your lenses as it has been shown to significantly increase the risk of severe ocular infections.
- Place the contact lens into a clean, dry lens case and then completely fill the well of the case with a multipurpose solution.
- Repeat steps three through six with the other eye’s lens.
- Soak the lenses according to the manufacturer’s recommended soaking time. This time will vary depending on the brand of solution but is usually between four and eight hours.
- Read the solution packaging thoroughly for instructions about lens cleaning and always follow the manufacturer-recommended procedure.
- Dispose of your contact lens case every one to three months. Overuse of a case can result in significant eye infections due to bacterial contamination. A new case is typically provided with each new bottle of solution purchased.
- Always rinse your case with fresh solution and allow it to air dry in the morning before reusing it. Never “top off” your solution—doing so increases your chances of a contact lens-related complication.
I dropped the contact lens on the floor, but I don’t have time to run an entire disinfection cycle with my solution. What do I do?
It is not enough simply to rinse off the contaminants and dust particles from the floor. Bathroom floors and other such surfaces may harbor significantly high numbers of microorganisms. While the tear film and corneal surface provide a remarkable barrier to infection, one never knows when the barrier may break down.
The only sure way to guarantee safety is to apply a new contact lens. This can be easily accomplished if you are wearing disposable soft contact lenses. The next best thing is to wear your back-up glasses while you clean the lens through the entire disinfection cycle as recommended by your care system's manufacturer. Every contact lens wearer should have a pair of glasses to wear as needed in cases like these when their lenses cannot be worn.
Is it okay to use tap water to insert or store my lenses?
No. Tap water contains micro-organisms which can lead to serious eye infections and loss of vision. One of the more well-known water-borne infections is caused by Acanthamoeba, a microscopic, free-living amoeba (single-celled organism). Acanthamoeba can cause an infection of the cornea, the transparent outer covering of the eye where a contact lens sits. These organisms are very common in nature and can be found in bodies of water (for example, lakes and oceans), hence the recommendation to avoid the use of water with lenses.
You should never use tap water in any area of your lens care, including rinsing the lenses and the lens case. Do not attempt to make your own homemade saline or contact lens solutions. Also, make sure your hands are completely dry before handling your lenses.
Should I be concerned about wearing my contact lenses on an airplane?
Commercial airline cabins expose passengers to reduced atmospheric pressure, reduced oxygen availability, reduced humidity, and dry air. These conditions can lead to discomfort with contact lens wear, especially on flights lasting longer than three hours. Instillation of lubricating eye drops approved for use with contact lenses may help relieve some eye dryness during your flight. Keep in mind that the United States Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) limits the size of any liquid container carried onboard an airplane to a 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less unless the liquids are medically necessary.3,7 Contact lens solution is considered a medically necessary liquid, so full-size bottles must be declared separately at the entry to the security checkpoint. The solution is then subject to further screening. Solution manufacturers do tend to sell 2 oz. travel size containers of solution for those still wary of TSA restrictions. In the absence of a smaller manufacturer-supplied container of solution, do not attempt to transfer contact lens solution to a smaller container. This allows for contamination of the solution during transfer, which can lead to a serious eye infection.
Is it safe to wear my contact lenses in a bathtub or hot tub?
It is recommended not to wear contact lenses while in a bathtub or hot tub. The United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) has recommended that contact lenses not be exposed to any form of water. Although rare, a sight-threatening eye complication known as Acanthamoeba keratitis is caused by an organism present in all forms of impure water (e.g. swimming pools, tap water, saunas, wells, and showers). Acanthamoeba and certain forms of bacteria present in water can become attached to contact lenses, resulting in potential infection.
If lenses are worn while in the bathtub or hot tub, care should be taken to avoid water being splashed into the eyes. Recent studies have recommended the use of tight-fitting swim goggles to limit eye exposure to water while swimming. If lenses are accidentally exposed to water, instill a lubricating drop to help loosen the lens on the eye then remove the lens with clean, dry hands. Next, clean and disinfect the lens before re-inserting, or discard the lens. Never sleep in a lens that has been exposed to water without first cleaning and disinfecting it.11 If lenses were removed prior to getting in a bathtub or hot tub, they must be properly cleaned and disinfected before being re-inserted.
Following these contact lens do's and don'ts can lead you to success.
- Always wash and thoroughly dry your hands before handling contact lenses.
- Carefully and regularly clean contact lenses as directed by your optometrist. If recommended, rub the contact lenses with your fingers and rinse them thoroughly before soaking the lenses overnight in a multipurpose solution that completely covers each lens.
- Store lenses in the proper lens storage case and replace the case at least every three months. Clean the case after each use, and keep it open and dry between cleanings.
- Use only fresh solution to clean and store contact lenses. Never reuse old solution. Change your contact lens solution according to the manufacturer's recommendations, even if you don't use your lenses daily.
- Always follow the recommended contact lens replacement schedule prescribed by a doctor of optometry.
- Remove contact lenses before swimming or entering a hot tub.
- Avoid tap water to wash or store contact lenses or lens cases.
- See a doctor of optometry for your regularly scheduled contact lens and eye examination.
- Use cream soaps. They can leave a film on your hands that can transfer to the lenses.
- Use homemade saline solutions. Improper use of homemade saline solutions has been linked with a potentially blinding condition among soft lens wearers.
- Put contact lenses in your mouth or moisten them with saliva, which is full of bacteria and a potential source of infection.
- Use tap water to wash or store contact lenses or lens cases.
- Share lenses with others.
- Use products not recommended by your optometrist to clean and disinfect your lenses. Saline solution and rewetting drops are not designed to disinfect lenses.
- Sleep in contact lenses after being exposed to pools, lakes, oceans, hot tubs or other sources of water that can contain bacteria.
Signs of potential problems
It is generally not difficult to wear contact lenses. Following your doctor’s advice and regular follow-up care will prevent most problems.
However, here is a list of some signs that things may not be going well. If you experience any of these, contact a doctor of optometry as soon as possible.
- Blurred or fuzzy vision, especially of sudden onset.
- Red, irritated eyes.
- Uncomfortable lenses.
- Pain in and around the eyes.
Contact lenses and cosmetics
You can wear contacts and cosmetics safely and comfortably together by following these helpful tips:
- Put on soft contact lenses before applying makeup.
- Put on rigid gas-permeable (RGP) lenses after applying makeup.
- Avoid lash-extending mascara, which has fibers that can irritate the eyes. Also avoid waterproof mascara, which cannot be easily removed with water and may stain soft contact lenses. Replace mascara at least every three months.
- Avoid applying eyeliner along the watermark of the eyelid.
- Remove lenses before removing makeup.
- Choose an oil-free moisturizer.
- Don't use hand creams or lotions before handling contacts. They can leave a film on your lenses.
- Use hairspray before putting on your contacts. If you use hairspray while you are wearing your contacts, close your eyes during spraying and for a few seconds after.
- Blink your eyes frequently while using a hair drier to keep your eyes from getting too dry.
- Keep false eyelash cement, nail polish and remover, perfume and cologne away from lenses. They can damage the plastic.
- Choose water-based, hypoallergenic liquid foundations. Cream makeup may leave a film on your lenses.
Visual Acuity is the clarity or sharpness of vision.
Safe contact lenses use provides an effective form of vision correction. Contact lenses prescribed by a licensed doctor of optometry are worn safely and comfortably by millions of people worldwide and have a long history of providing wearers with a safe and effective form of vision correction.
There are many types of contact lenses, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Learn more about each type with our side by side comparison.