Halloween health: Don’t purchase decorative contact lenses without a prescription

By the American Optometric Association 

With Halloween rapidly approaching, it’s timely to remind the public to have a health fear of decorative contact lenses.

The AOA is warning people about the risks of purchasing and wearing such lenses without a valid prescription and proper medical evaluation from a doctor of optometry. The AOA also encourages optometrists to report any cases of harm from illegally purchased lenses.

Decorative lenses, also referred to as plano lenses, are marketed and distributed directly to consumers as fashion or costume accessories. People can buy them online or at flea markets, beauty salons, convenience stores and even national retailers.

“Even though these are non-corrective lenses, they still pose the same potential health and safety risks as other contact lenses,” said Glenda Secor, O.D., chair of the AOA’s Contact Lens and Cornea Section. “When purchased over-the-counter, decorative contact lenses can put people at risk for bacterial infections, allergic reactions, or even significant damage to the eye’s ability to function, with the potential for irreversible sight loss. Sadly, numerous cases of this have been documented.”

According to the AOA’s 2013 American Eye-Q consumer survey, 17 percent of Americans have worn decorative contact lenses that don’t provide vision correction. Of those individuals, 24 percent purchased them without a prescription from a source other than an eye doctor – a great concern for the AOA and its members.

All contact lenses are classified as medical devises by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They require a valid prescription whether they correct vision or are worn for special occasions such as Halloween, proms or weddings.

Report harm from illegal lenses

In addition, AOA members continue to provide reports of patients being able to purchase contact lenses online, even though the patients have not had a recent eye exam and do not possess a valid prescription. The AOA replies on the reports received from doctors in the field regarding inappropriate contact lens sales to bolster its advocacy efforts.

Any further federal actions to better protect contact lens patients and to eliminate sellers who disregard the laws in place depends in large part of the reports that agencies receive from doctors and patients. As Paul Proske, O.D. and AOA member practicing in Texas noted, “If enough of my colleagues take the time to report incidents in which their patients are put at risk by purchasing contact lenses online or through unconventional retailers without proper prescriptions and oversight, we could effect change on a national level.”

If a patient has been harmed or injured because of the illegal sales of contact lenses (corrective or decorative), report the incident to the FDA. If you believe a contact lens seller (online or in person) is selling lenses with poor business practices that could lead to harm or injury, report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

Doctors also can email copies of any complaints to Kara Webb (kcwebb@aoa.org). These incidents will be logged internally to discuss with federal agencies.

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