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Decorative Contact Lenses: Is fashion really worth the pain?

We’ve all seen the funky, cool contact lenses that you can buy throughout the year, especially around Halloween.  That cat-eye contact would match your kitty costume perfect! Want to have blue eyes for the day?  How easy it is to pick up a cheap pair of lenses and pop them in until you’re ready for another change!  These decorative lenses can be a reality, but going the cheaper route will cost you more than just your hard-earned cash.

Decorative lenses are not comparable to cosmetics or over-the-counter items that can be bought at drugstores or costume stores.  Any store that advertises these lenses as a cosmetic or sells them without a prescription is willfully breaking the law, according to the FDA.  These lenses are also not “one-size-fits-all.”  Contact lenses can be too tight, too loose, or irritating to one person and not another.  Eye doctors take the time to evaluate your eyes in order to prescribe a lens with the perfect fit.  Drug stores and costume shops do not provide this safety evaluation.

Complications can arise from wearing decorative contact lenses that are too small, too big, or are seemingly irritating.  Bernard Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed., an optometrist at the FDA, states that “The problem isn’t with the decorative contacts themselves.  It’s the way people use them improperly – without a valid prescription, without the involvement of a qualified eye care professional, or without appropriate follow-up care.”  These complications can include scratches on the cornea, corneal infection, conjunctivitis, decreased vision, and even blindness.

You should never buy decorative contact lenses from the following places:

  • Street vendors
  • Salons or beauty supply stores
  • Boutiques
  • Flea markets
  • Novelty stores
  • Halloween stores
  • Record or video stores
  • Convenience stores
  • Beach shops
  • Internet (unless the site requires a valid prescription)

How can you still enjoy the benefits of decorative contact lenses without the fear of damaging or losing your vision?  Take the time to get an eye exam from a licensed optometrist and receive a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements, and expiration date of the contact lens.  See your eye doctor right away if you notice any possible signs of infection including redness, consistent eye pain, or a decrease in vision.

As one corneal abrasion patient, Laura, puts it, “Take the time to go to the doctor, pay the extra money, and save yourself the agony.”  After buying contact lenses at the beach for fun, Laura had to visit the emergency room, spent the next eight weeks constantly seeing her eye doctor due to an unbearable corneal abrasion, and was unable to drive for the entire eight weeks she received treatment.  She is still dealing with blurry vision and a drooping eyelid following her abrasion.