COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, The Ohio Affiliate of Prevent Blindness, and the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board have joined forces to warn consumers about the dangers of wearing decorative contact lenses without a valid prescription this Halloween season.
They remind the public that it is illegal for anyone to dispense or sell contact lenses without a current, valid prescription. Even if the lenses are cosmetic or non-correcting, they still are classified as medical devices and must be purchased with a prescription.
“It’s important people understand the risk they’re taking when they wear contacts without a prescription,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Wearing non-prescription contacts just once, like during Halloween, can still cause serious damage. I encourage consumers to buy all contacts, including decorative ones, from a licensed eye care professional. Adding a special effect to your Halloween costume can be fun, but it is not worth risking your eyesight.”
The Ohio Optical Dispensers Board warns that cosmetic contacts may be sold illegally online — including on Craigslist or, most recently, via Facebook — or in costume stores, tattoo parlors, beauty supply stores, truck stops, wig shops, gas stations, convenience stores, or thrift stores.
Kathleen Eagan, Executive Director of the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board, says, “The Ohio Optical Dispensers Board takes the dangers of buying over-the-counter contact lenses very seriously. In 2017, five cease and desist orders have been sent out against entities found to be illegally dispensing cosmetic contact lenses. We are proud to partner with Prevent Blindness on efforts to educate the public about the dangers of illegal contact sales without the benefit of professional evaluation and instruction on the proper care and wearing of contact lenses. If you are aware of illegal contact dispensing we encourage you to notify the Optical Dispensers Board.”
Contact lenses are a good option for many as an alternative to eyeglasses. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 46 million Americans wear contact lenses.
However, the use of contact lenses also brings a higher risk of infections. Causes may include sleeping in lenses when not approved by an eye doctor, not cleaning the lenses or lens case properly, sharing lenses, or wearing contact lenses during water activities.
Ill-fitting lenses can cause eye pain, bacterial infections, and corneal ulcers. One study found that wearing decorative lenses increased the risk for developing keratitis, a potentially blinding infection that causes an ulcer in the eye. This increased risk was over 16 times more likely than those seen in vision correcting (“regular”) lenses.
A new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC shows that more than 80 percent of contact lens wearers reported at least one behavior that put them at risk for a contact lens-related eye infection. The report broke down the rates by age groups, where 85 percent of adolescents (ages 12-17), 81 percent of young adults (ages 18-24), and 88 percent of older adults (ages 25 and older) practiced unsafe lens use.
“It may be tempting to create a unique look for Halloween or other social events by changing the look of your eyes. But beware that using cosmetic contact lenses accessed without a prescription from an eye doctor or borrowed from someone else is asking for trouble. Infections, scarring and even blindness can result,” said Sherry Williams, President and CEO of The Ohio Affiliate of Prevent Blindness.
“I’ve seen many young patients who were not aware of the dangers of these products and are now living with permanent vision loss,” said Thomas L. Steinemann, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University/MetroHealth Medical Center and a Prevent Blindness volunteer. “Even if the lenses are cosmetic or non-correcting, they are still classified as medical devices and should only be prescribed by an eye care professional.”
Prevent Blindness offers the following safety tips regarding cosmetic contact lenses:
Always visit a licensed eye care professional to be fitted for cosmetic contact lenses.
Never buy contact lenses without a prescription.
Always clean and disinfect contact lenses according to instructions.
Always use water-soluble cosmetics or those labeled safe for use with contact lenses. Do not apply skin creams or moisturizers too close to the eyes.
Never wear opaque lenses if you have any problems with night vision.
Never share or trade your contact lenses with anyone.
Seek medical attention right away and remove your contact lenses if your eyes are red or have ongoing pain or discharge. Be watchful about your children’s or teens’ appearance. If they are wearing cosmetic contacts, question them about where they obtained them.
The non-profit group has a dedicated webpage with free information at: http://www.preventblindness.org/wearing-contact-lenses.
Attorney General DeWine encourages Ohioans to report illegal sales of contact lenses to the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board at 614-466-9709. As a U.S. senator, DeWine sponsored the legislation that requires consumers to obtain a prescription from a licensed professional to purchase contact lenses, including corrective and non-corrective lenses.
Images of serious eye injuries caused by illegally sold lenses (photo 1 and photo 2, courtesy of Dr. Thomas L. Steinemann) and an image of an unauthorized cosmetic contact lens display (photo 3, courtesy of the FDA) are available on the Ohio Attorney General’s website.