Scariest part of Halloween might be disguised contact lenses, eye doctor says

(The Conversation) – Your appearance won’t be the only scary thing about wearing costume contact lenses this Halloween. Your eyes might look lizard-like for an evening, but the risk of permanent vision loss might 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 partygoers wear costume contact lenses, but the number surely increases 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 an optometrist on staff at a private practice in central Ohio and on faculty 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 health risk when used without the proper supervision of an ophthalmologist.

Fungi, infections and parasites… oh my

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

Also remember that a contact lens is a piece of plastic that covers the eye and can block oxygen from reaching its front surface. Growth of new blood vessels, redness, tearing, and pain are all signs and symptoms that an eye lacks oxygen.

Most contact lenses are generally safe for patients who wear them as directed by their eye doctor. The problem is that many patients are non-adherent, displaying at least one high-risk contact lens behavior, research shows. Although there is no in-depth study on the matter, ophthalmologists are hearing plenty of anecdotal evidence that risky behaviors increase in patients wearing costume contact lenses.

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

It’s not hard to think of reasons why patients might be tempted to sleep in their costume contact lenses. First, they probably view their contact lenses as cosmetic accessories and not durable medical devices. Second, they might not wear contact lenses outside of the Halloween period and are therefore unaware of the risks associated with contact lens misuse. Finally, an adult drink or two likely distorts the decision-making processes of otherwise docile contact lens wearers. They just want to go to bed – removing their contact lenses can wait until tomorrow!

Decorative contact lenses are also risky because they might not fit your eye as they should. Contact lenses are not one size fits all. They come in different materials, shapes and sizes. Only with the help of your eye doctor can you determine if a contact lens is healthy for your eyes. This is why the sale of disguised contact lenses without a prescription is illegal in the United States. Ill-fitting disguised 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, disguised contact lenses can be a safe and fun way to spice up your Halloween outfit.

The process begins with a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. After making sure your eyes are healthy and you can see well, your doctor will fit you contact lenses that you can wear safely. You will also receive instructions on how to clean and handle your lenses and how long you can wear them. At the end of the examination, 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 buying costume contact lenses online is certainly convenient, you should be aware that online costume contact lens retailers may be unregulated and may provide you with an unsafe lens to wear. Remember that the FDA requires that a prescription accompany all purchases of costume contact lenses. Any website selling these lenses without a prescription is breaking the law, and the FDA wants to know about it.

If you decide to wear costume contact lenses this Halloween, you should be aware of symptoms that could indicate that your lenses are causing 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 ophthalmologist for further instructions. Most episodes of complications can be treated effectively with prescription eye drops. But it’s 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 vision-threatening consequences can follow even one night of mishandling or sleeping in costume contact lenses. If you want to wear them, be sure to see your eye doctor for a prescription and avoid online retailers that don’t require a prescription.

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

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