As corneal specialists we see major infections and corneal ulcers on a daily basis. One of the biggest culprits this time of year is complications from cosmetic contacts. It’s important to understand that contacts (even those without refractive correction) should still be prescribed by a qualified eye care professional.
The availability of over-the-counter cosmetic contacts – especially those SFX Halloween contacts – is widespread in the US. Their easy obtainability might imply that they’re safe to use, but in fact, these lenses are not regulated by the FDA and often contain materials that can be harmful or damaging to the eyes, such as iron or chlorine, according to The American Academy of Ophthalmology. For those who have opened their eyes underwater in a pool, the irritation and burning from diluted chlorine is pretty distinct; imagine how much more potent these chemicals might be laying directly on the cornea for extended periods of time.
Additionally, there’s more that goes into a contact lens prescription that just the refractive power. Because these lens lay directly on the cornea (the shape of which varies considerably from person to person), they need to be custom fit. The base curve (the underside curvature of the lens) and the diameter (the distance from one edge of the lens to the other across its center) must be fit to each patient’s personal specifications; otherwise the lens will not fit appropriately. An improperly-fit contact lens can cause issues a simple as lens displacement on blinking or as complicated as oxygen deprivation, corneal edema, or infection, among other things.
For many years it has actually been illegal to sell colored contact lens in the US without a prescription. These lenses are often sold online, in beauty salons, novelty shops, or – most prevalent this time of year – in pop-up costume shops. These retailers are breaking the law by dispensing these lenses and are susceptible to fines of $11,000 for each violation.
Learn more about the dangers of OTC cosmetic contacts by visiting the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s website. Remember: no Rx is a No Go.