Scary-looking costume contact lenses may elevate your Halloween’s fright factor, but wearing them without a prescription could result in something far more terrifying – blindness. Ophthalmology Associates joins the American Academy of Ophthalmology in ensuring the public understands the risks of wearing over-the-counter contact lenses.
It is illegal to sell non-prescription contact lenses, but they can still be easily purchased at places such as beauty supply stores, costume shops and on the Internet. Falsely advertised as “one-size-fits-all” or “no prescription necessary,” these lenses can cause serious eye damage. One young man is now legally blind in one eye after wearing colored contact lenses he bought at a gas station. He’s suffered multiple eye infections, a cataract, and secondary glaucoma, all of which required surgery.
Ophthalmologists – physicians and surgeons who specialize in medical and surgical eye care – are reminding people of five frightening consequences of ignoring the warnings:
- Scratches to the eye – If contacts are not professionally fitted to your eye, they can scratch the clear front window of the eye. This is called a corneal abrasion, which is not only painful, but can cause permanent damage. Just ask Laura Butler, who was in severe pain due to corneal abrasions 10 hours after putting in non-prescription lenses, which “stuck to my eye like suction cups.” Treatment often involves medication and patching. Sometimes, damage cannot be reversed. Butler now has a corneal scar, vision damage and a drooping eyelid.
- Infection – Research shows wearing non-prescription contacts increases the risk of an infection called keratitis by 16 times. Early treatment with antibiotic or steroid drops may preserve vision, but sometimes surgery, such as corneal transplantation, is necessary. Robyn Rouse had to have that surgery after she got an infection after wearing non-prescription lenses she bought at a local store.
- Pink eye – Never share contacts because doing so can spread germs, causing conditions such as pink eye. Highly contagious, pink eye treatment depends on the cause, but typically includes some home remedies and antibiotic eye drops.
- Decreased vision – Whether from a corneal scratch or infection, wearing non-prescription contacts can lead to decreased vision.
- Blindness – It’s no scare tactic: wearing non-prescription contacts can lead to permanent vision loss. Learn how to take proper care of your contact lenses to avoid dangerous eye infections.
“It’s just not worth it,” said Thomas L. Steinemann, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “One night of looking scary in costume lenses is not worth losing your eyesight. If you must have contact lenses for any reason, do not buy over-the-counter lenses. Protect your vision by getting prescription lenses from an eye health professional.”
The Academy encourages the public to watch and share its “No Prescription, No Way” public service announcement that shows the serious damage that these non-prescription costume contact lenses can inflict on the eyes.
Visit the Academy’s EyeSmart® website to learn more about contact lens safety.
 Sauer, A., & Bourcier, T. 2011. Microbial keratitis as a foreseeable complication of cosmetic contact lenses: A prospective study. Acta Ophthalmologica 89 5, pp. e439-e422. DOI:10.1111/j.1755-3768.2011.02120.x