The FDA and other agencies warn against novelty contact lenses for Halloween. If lenses aren’t the right size or are improperly cleaned, they can cause eye infections and loss of vision.
Those vampire contact lenses that you bought to complete your Halloween costume may be even scarier than you think.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other agencies are warning consumers about decorative contacts, which when used improperly can cause serious damage to the eye – including blindness.
Novelty lenses are inexpensive and especially popular around Halloween, and some costume stores and boutiques stock them in a range of crazy colors and styles.
But it’s illegal to sell contact lenses without a prescription or to advertise them as cosmetics.
The dangers are such that the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, along with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, are “working to seize” counterfeit, illegally imported and otherwise unapproved lenses, according to a news release on the ICE website.
“Even though Halloween approaches, consumers shouldn’t let a good deal or great costume blind them to the dangers of counterfeit decorative contact lenses,” said James Dinkins, executive associate director of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, in the statement. “What’s truly scary is the damage these counterfeit lenses can do to your eyes for a lifetime.”
The dangers of wearing decorative contacts include poor fit, which can lead to a scratched cornea, corneal infection, decreased vision and blindness.
Spooky lenses sell for as little as $ 20 in novelty shops, but it is illegal to sell them to customers without a prescription.
Not cleaning the lenses as you would prescription contacts can also lead to bacterial infection.
“Bacterial infections can be extremely rapid, result in corneal ulcers, and cause blindness—sometimes within as little as 24 hours if not diagnosed and treated promptly,” FDA ophthalmologist Bernard Lepri said.
“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.”
Laura Butler of Parkersburg, W.Va., was one such unfortunate consumer, according to the FDA. In 2010, Butler purchased a pair of blue contact lenses from a souvenir shop and soon found herself in “excruciating pain.”
The lenses shifted around in Butler’s eyes and became “stuck like suction cups.” She removed them and went to the ER, where she was diagnosed with corneal abrasion.
An ophthalmologist later told her it was “as if someone took sandpaper and sanded my cornea,” she said. “He said he wasn’t going to sugar-coat it, that I could lose my eyesight or could lose my eye.”
Butler ultimately kept her eye, but was unable to drive for eight weeks, had a droopy eyelid for five months, and still has decreased vision, she said.
A licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist can prescribe decorative lenses, but “consumers should not expect their eye doctor to prescribe anime, or circle lenses, which give the wearer a wide-eyed, doll-like look, as these have not been approved by the FDA,” according to the ICE statement.