So, you want decorative contacts for Halloween? What to know

Decorative Lenses

Remember the last time you bought underwear from a random website, at the gas station or a flea market? Perhaps the packaging was questionable, or the quality was poor, but they were a perfect color you were looking. You examine them close and wonder, "Where did these even come from?"

Extreme? It's not as far-fetched as it sounds, considering many Americans detrimentally play this scenario out every Halloween, not over underwear but decorative, costume contact lenses. In fact, 26 percent of Americans who have worn noncorrective, decorative contact lenses purchased them without a prescription from a source other than their eye doctor. And while questionable underwear certainly has its own issues, questionably acquired contact lenses can cause serious eye health issues or even permanent damage.

Whether corrective or decorative, all contact lenses are classified as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and that means they require a prescription from an eye doctor before touching your eyes. Likewise, it means those knock-off, costume contact lenses packaged next to lottery tickets at the convenience store aren't only of questionable legality, but they also could be dangerous.

No Rx? They're unsafe

But don't just take our word for it: In 2017, the FDA published a case report in the Journal of Forensic Sciences that found a majority of unapproved, counterfeit contact lenses tested positive for the kinds of microbial contamination frequently found in hospital waste water or spoiled food. Respectively, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Bacillus cereus were just a pair of microorganisms identified in the FDA's examination of more than 300 individual contact lenses obtained without a prescription from sources such as import seizures, novelty stores, tattoo parlors, flea markets and internet marketplaces.

Not convinced yet? The FDA found 60 percent of suspected counterfeit lenses and 27 percent of unapproved lenses tested positive for microbial contamination. These microbes are the same ones commonly associated with serious eye infections and vision loss, including microbial keratitis and bacterial endophthalmitis.

And they're illegal

However, health and safety aren't the only reasons to forgo that online shopping cart full of nonprescribed contact lenses. It's also illegal.

The Fairness to Contact Lens Consumer Act (FCLCA) and the Federal Trade Commission's Contact Lens Rule stipulate that it's unlawful for retailers to sell contact lenses without first verifying the validity of the patient's prescription. Unfortunately, retailers may not know-or in some circumstances, choose to ignore-these consumer protections intended to put patient's health and safety first. These protections are to ensure patients are good candidates for contact lenses with healthy corneas that can safely tolerate lenses.

An estimated 45 million Americans wear contact lenses, a form of eyewear that provides many benefits when worn and cared for properly. Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that a whopping 9 in 10 contact lens wearers commit at least one hygiene faux pas that can up their risk of eye infection or inflammation. That's why doctors' oversight is so critical to safeguarding patients' eye health.

"Decorative contact lenses are a cool accessory to a Halloween costume but only if they're prescribed and fitted by a doctor of optometry," AOA President Barbara L. Horn, O.D., says. "Unfortunately, people may buy their decorative lenses illegally without a prescription from a street vendor, at a beauty supply store, on the internet, or in a novelty shop. The consequences for their vision can be very serious.

How to be safe about it

So, the bottom line: If your perfect Halloween costume requires decorative contact lenses, then simply visit your local doctor of optometry and inquire about safe contact lens options. Here are some tips for keeping your eyes healthy this Halloween:

  1. Get a checkup.
    Schedule an in-person, comprehensive eye examination to get fitted for the right kind of contact lenses for your eyes.

  2. Check your Rx.
    If you already wear contact lenses, make sure your prescription is current. If it's outdated, it's time to visit your doctor of optometry.

  3. No Rx, no contacts.
    Never buy contact lenses from vendors or sellers that don't require a prescription. It's not only unsafe, but also illegal.

  4. Contacts aren't shareable.
    Don't share your contact lenses with friends. No one wants an eye infection and everyone's eyes are different! Contact lenses that fit your eyes might not fit your friend causing redness and discomfort.

  5. Don't fall asleep in them.
    No matter how tired you are at the end of your Halloween festivities, don't forget to remove your contacts before going to bed. The most serious vision-threatening infections can result from sleeping in contact lenses. Let your eyes rest and breathe.

Want more information about contact lens safety? Read more here.

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