Adding decorative contact lenses to a Halloween costume may have some scary health effects, federal officials warn. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has...

Adding decorative contact lenses to a Halloween costume may have some scary health effects, federal officials warn.

ucm275217The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced a consumer warning ahead of Halloween about the dangers of counterfeit and unapproved decorative contact lenses.

The devices can make a person’s eyes look like those of a cat, zombie or vampire for Halloween, which is Saturday.

Under U.S. law, contact lenses are considered medical devices, and are regulated by the FDA. The agency recommends purchasing all forms of contact lenses from a licensed provider who requires a prescription.

But people often buy decorative lenses at holiday stores, convenience stores, novelty stores, flea markets, or online, and they tend to do it without an examination from a licensed eye doctor or a valid prescription. That is risky.

Any individual who experiences eye redness, prolonged eye pain or any decrease in vision after wearing decorative contact lenses should immediately notify a doctor. The health effects are serious, and in the worst cases can include blindness, experts say.

Dr. Judson Briggs, president of the Georgia Optometric Association, told GHN that potential users “don’t know about the risks’’ of such counterfeit lenses.  They can produce inflammation, blurred vision and infections. “We have seen cases of serious scar tissue,’’ says Briggs, an optometrist who practices in Dunwoody.

“In a big city, you probably have more of these Halloween shops,’’ Briggs says. “Consumers are exploited without any regard for their health and safety.”

151016washingtondc2The FDA says decorative lenses are not cosmetics or over-the-counter merchandise, nor are they “one size fits all.”

Decorative contact lenses are sometimes called, among other names: fashion contact lenses, Halloween contact lenses, colored contact lenses, and cosmetic contact lenses.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that if you plan to wear decorative contact lenses, even if only for a special event, you need to make sure that you:

Get an eye exam. The fit of your contact lenses is very important. A wrong fit can cause damage to your eyes. Be sure to always go for follow-up eye exams.

Get a prescription. Your eye doctor will write you a prescription for all contact lenses, including decorative lenses. The prescription should include the brand name, correct lens measurements, and expiration date.

Know how to care for your contact lenses. Follow the instructions for wearing, cleaning, and disinfecting that come with your contact lenses. If you do not receive instructions, ask your eye doctor for them.

Buy contact lenses only from a company that sells FDA-cleared or approved contact lenses and requires you to provide a prescription.

Failure to use the proper solution to keep contact lenses clean and moist can lead to infections, the FDA says.

Dr. Jack Chapman, a Gainesville ophthalmologist, told GHN that the infections from these counterfeit and unapproved lenses “can be really bad. It’s a real risk.”

Operation Double Vision, a federal effort to target the illegal importation and distribution of these products, has seized more than 20,000 pairs of counterfeit and decorative contact lenses.

“I have never seen an eye exam or witnessed a contact lens training session conducted at a flea market or gas station,’’ says Briggs, the optometrist. “You only get one set of eyes, so don’t put them at risk by using contact lenses sold or purchased illegally.”


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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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