Scariest part of Halloween can be costume contact lenses, ophthalmologist says


(The Conversation) – Your appearance won’t be the only scary thing about wearing costume contact lenses this Halloween. Your eyes may look like a lizard’s for a night out, but the risk of permanent vision loss may not be worth the temporary thrill.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 million Americans, or about one in six, wear contact lenses. It’s hard to estimate how many revelers are wearing costume contact lenses, but the number is surely increasing around Halloween. In my experience, the demand for these lenses is highest among young people, the same demographic that is most at risk for infectious and inflammatory complications from their contact lenses.

As a staff optometrist in a private practice in Central Ohio and a faculty member at the Ohio State University College of Optometry, I frequently work with patients who wear contact lenses. Most of them don’t realize that the Food and Drug Administration classifies all contact lenses as Class II or Class III medical devices. This means that contact lenses are medical devices that pose at least a moderate risk to health when used without the proper supervision of an ophthalmologist.

Fungi, infections and parasites … oh my god

All contact lenses can cause serious eye complications. Contact lens wearers are at a higher risk than non-carriers of eye infections caused by bacteria, fungi and parasites. Infection with one of these microscopic organisms can deprive you of your central vision.

Also, keep in mind that a contact lens is a piece of plastic that covers the eye and can prevent oxygen from reaching its front surface. The growth of new blood vessels, redness, tearing, and pain are all signs and symptoms that an eye is lacking oxygen.

Most contact lenses are generally safe for patients who wear them according to their eye doctor’s instructions. The problem is that many patients are not adherent, exhibiting at least high-risk contact lens behavior, research has shown. While there is no comprehensive study on the matter, ophthalmologists hear a lot of anecdotal evidence that risky behaviors increase in patients wearing costume contact lenses.

Of these risky behaviors, sleeping with your contact lenses on is perhaps the most dangerous. In fact, it puts you at high risk of getting an infection of the cornea, the transparent dome that covers the front of the eye.

It is not difficult to think about the reasons why patients may be tempted to sleep with their costumed contact lenses on. First, they probably view their contact lenses as cosmetic accessories and not as durable medical devices. Second, they may not wear contact lenses outside of the Halloween period and therefore are unaware of the risks associated with contact lens misuse. Finally, one or two adult drinks are likely to distort the decision-making processes of otherwise compliant contact lens wearers. They just want to go to bed – removing their contact lenses can wait until tomorrow!

Decorative contact lenses are also risky as they might not fit your eye as they should. Contact lenses are not universal. They come in different materials, shapes and sizes. Only with the help of your ophthalmologist can you determine if a contact lens is healthy for your eyes. This is why the sale of non-prescription costume contact lenses is illegal in the United States. Ill-fitting costume contact lenses can cause many eye problems, including surface abrasions, allergic reactions, and blurred vision.

But go ahead … live a little, with the help of a doctor

Still, costume contact lenses can be a safe and fun way to spice up your Halloween ensemble.

The process begins with a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. After making sure that your eyes are healthy and that you can see well, your doctor will fit contact lenses for you that are safe to wear. You will also be given instructions on how to clean and handle your lenses and how long you can wear them. At the end of the exam, your doctor will give you a prescription for contact lenses. You are now ready to go.

Use this prescription to purchase your lenses from a trusted supplier, such as your local optical store. While purchasing costume contact lenses online is certainly convenient, you should be aware that online costume contact lens retailers may not be regulated and may provide you with lenses that are unsafe to wear. Remember, the FDA requires a prescription to accompany any purchase of costume contact lenses. Any website selling these lenses without a prescription is breaking the law and the FDA wants to know that.

If you decide to wear costume contact lenses this Halloween, you should be aware of the symptoms that could indicate that your lenses are a problem. Red eyes, blurred vision, pain, and sensitivity to light are all possible indicators of potentially serious contact lens complications.

If you experience any of these symptoms, remove your contact lenses immediately, then call your local optometrist or eye doctor for further instructions. Most episodes of complications can be effectively treated with prescription eye drops. But it is best to avoid all cases of contact lens complications, as some can lead to blindness.

Remember, although they are an exciting accessory, costume contact lenses are not toys. Serious and threatening consequences for vision can follow even a night of mishandling or sleeping with costumed contact lenses. If you want to wear them, be sure to visit your eye doctor for a prescription and avoid online retailers that don’t require a prescription.

As for me, I’ll stick to my clear prescription contact lenses this Halloween. Putting on pointy ears and long whiskers will make me look like a cat, enough.


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