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Look Great but be Safe with Halloween Contact Lenses

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Cosmetic Halloween contact lenses can add flair to your costume and be a fun way to change your appearance. Changing your eye color or even the shape of your pupil by wearing colored contact lenses is particularly alluring around Halloween. Be it red eyes for a vampire or cat-like pupil it is important to place safety before looks.

Even though cosmetic Halloween contact lenses are not worn to improve your vision, they still need to be prescribed and fit the same way. The reason for this is that decorative contact lenses can lead to real-life nightmares, including infection and vision loss. Given these lenses appeal mostly to young adults and teenagers, researchers have tried to address the question whether wearing these contact lenses led to an increase in the risk of infections.

A recent prospective study in France found that that wearing decorative contact lenses led to a 16 fold increase in the risk for developing a corneal infection, which could potentially blind patients. (Sauer A, Bourcier T; French Study Group for Contact Lenses Related Microbial Keratitis; Microbial keratitis as a foreseeable complication of cosmetic contact lenses: a prospective study Acta Ophthalmol. 2011 Aug;89(5):e439-42)

Given these risks it is important to remember that even though they are called “cosmetic” you should still consider them a medical device. An eye professional should fit the contact to your eye. Also you need to know how to take care of these lenses.

The law governing the distribution of contact lenses is clear: they are classified as medical devices under a federal law passed in 2005, and can only be distributed by licensed eye care professionals. Additionally, some decorative lenses, such as trendy circle lenses, are not FDA-approved.

Please remember safety first and take a look at the following guidelines by the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

  • Get an eye exam from an eye care professional such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
  • Obtain a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements, and expiration date.
  • Purchase the decorative contact lenses from a licensed eye care professional or an eye product retailer who asks for a prescription.
  • Follow the directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses.
  • Never share contact lenses with another person.
  • Get follow up exams by your eye care provider.

To obtain a prescription for decorative contact lenses, an eye care professional will measure each eye to ensure proper fit. Contacts that are not fitted by an eye care professional may scratch the eye or cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea. An eye care professional will also provide contact lens care instructions. Contacts that are left in for too long or that are not properly cleaned and disinfected can significantly increase the risk of an eye infection.

If you notice redness, swelling, excessive discharge, pain or discomfort from wearing contact lenses, remove the lenses and seek immediate medical attention from an ophthalmologist. Eye infections like keratitis can quickly become serious and cause blindness if left untreated.

Every year I see at least one eye infection caused by cosmetic lenses, which in an effort to look more beautiful, destroy the natural beauty of the eye.

Robert Fintelmann, MD
Cornea, Vision Correction and Cataract Surgeon

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