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‘Scary Eyes’

FDA, eye care professionals warn public about risks of non-prescription costume contacts

A woman dressed in costume wears costume contacts to alter the appearance of her eyes. Costume contacts are available in a wide variety of styles, from purples and reds to cat eyes. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers of the risks of buying these costume contacts without a prescription. Even though these costume contacts aren’t designed to alte vision, it’s still important to get them prescribed and fitted, as eye infections, damage and even blindness can occur with non-prescription contacts, according to the FDA. (Stock photos from PxHere)

MARQUETTE — A quick internet search for “Halloween contacts” will return a huge variety of options for sale, from purple contacts to cat eyes.

While these contacts aren’t designed to improve eyesight, many may not realize that getting a prescription for them is still important and that it’s illegal to sell non-prescription contacts, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials said.

This is because using costume contacts purchased without a prescription can have unintended scary effects, such as eye infections, scraping of the cornea and even blindness, according to the FDA.

Due to this, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the Aspirus Eye Center in Ironwood are spreading the word about the dangers of non-prescription costume contact lenses and are “urging people to buy decorative contact lenses only from retailers who require a prescription and sell FDA-approved products.”

“Creepy costume lenses might add a spine-tingling thrill to your Halloween costume, but wearing costume contact lenses without a prescription can lead to serious eye infections or permanent vision loss,” a press release from the Aspirus Eye Center in Ironwood states. “Decorative lenses are medical devices, not costume jewelry, and should be prescribed and fitted by an eye care professional, just like regular contact lenses.”

Furthermore, selling non-prescription contacts is illegal and contacts should never be purchased from retailers such as street vendors, salons or beauty supply stores, boutiques, flea markets, novelty stores, Halloween stores, convenience stores or internet sites that do not require a prescription, as “these are not authorized distributors of contact lenses, which are prescription devices by federal law,” according to the FDA.

“If you’re buying lenses that haven’t been FDA-approved or you’re buying through a dealer who isn’t regulated by the FDA, you can’t be sure of anything you’re receiving,” information from the FDA states. “The lenses you get may not be what you ordered, they may not be clean or correctly packaged and they may not be the right size or shape for your eye to begin with. The risks aren’t worth it.”

Those who purchase contacts without a prescription face a 16-times greater risk for developing an infection, according to the press release. A 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics indicated at least 13,500 emergency room cases each year are due to contact lens injuries in children and teens.

“A poorly fitted contact lens can easily scrape the cornea — the outer layer of the eye — making the eye more vulnerable to infection-causing bacteria and viruses,” said Dr. Dustin Wasylik, an ophthalmologist at the Aspirus Eye Center in Ironwood. “Sometimes scarring from an infection is so bad, a corneal transplant is required to restore vision. The most extreme cases can even result in blindness.”

Wasylik offered a few tips in the press release to “help ensure your Halloween costume won’t haunt you in the long run.”

≤ See an eye care professional to get a prescription for costume contact lenses. Packaging that claims “one size fits all” or “no need to see an eye doctor” is false, he said. Get contacts properly fitted by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

≤ Properly care for contact lenses. Even if you have a prescription for contact lenses, proper care remains essential.

≤ Never share contacts. “Pink eye isn’t a good look, even for a costume. Sharing contacts can spread germs, causing conditions such as pink eye, which is highly contagious,” Wasylik said in the press release.

≤ Spread the word to others about the dangers of costume contacts. Don’t let friends make the mistake of wearing costume contacts without a prescription.

For more information, visit /www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/colored-and-decorative-contact-lenses-prescription-must or https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/contact-lenses/decorative-contact-lenses.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.

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