Ophthalmologists Warn Frightening Risks of Wearing Contact Lenses Without a Prescription

The Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Ophthalmology share patient stories, urge Halloween revelers to avoid over-the-counter lenses.Zombie or devil contact lenses may elevate a Halloween costume’s fright factor, but wearing them without a prescription could result in something far more terrifying – blindness. The Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology joins the American Academy of Ophthalmology in urging Halloween shoppers to understand the risks of wearing over-the-counter contact lenses.

While it is illegal to sell non-prescription contact lenses, they can still be easily purchased at many places such as beauty supply stores, costume shops and on the web. Falsely advertised as “one-size-fits-all” or “no prescription necessary,” these lenses can cause serious eye damage. Last year, one girl became partially blind in her left eye, the top layer of her cornea having been ripped off, after a mere four hours of wearing non-prescription contact lenses she bought at a jewelry booth.

Ophthalmologists – the physicians and surgeons that specialize in medical and surgical eye care – are reminding people of five frightening consequences of ignoring the warnings: 

  • Scratches to the eye – If contacts are not professionally fitted to your eye, they can scratch the clear front window of the eye. This is called a corneal abrasion, which is not only painful, but can cause permanent damage. Just ask Laura Butler, who was in severe pain due to corneal abrasions 10 hours after putting in non-prescription lenses, which “stuck to my eye like suction cups.” Treatment often involves medication and patching, but in some cases damage cannot be reversed. Butler now lives with a corneal scar, vision damage and a drooping eyelid.
  • Infection – Research shows wearing non-prescription contacts increases the risk of an infection called keratitis by 16 times. Early treatment with antibiotic or steroid drops may preserve vision, but sometimes surgery, such as corneal transplantation, is necessary. Robyn Rouse had to have that surgery after she got an infection after wearing non-prescription lenses she bought at a local store. Twelve years later, she still has blurry vision in her left eye and uses daily drops to combat dry eye.  
  • Pink eye – Never share contacts because doing so can spread germs, causing conditions such as pink eye. Highly contagious, pink eye treatment depends on the cause, but typically includes antibiotic drops.
  • Decreased vision – Whether from a corneal scratch or infection, wearing non-prescription contacts can lead to decreased vision.
  • Blindness – It’s no scare tactic: wearing non-prescription contacts can lead to permanent vision loss. Julian Hamlin has had more than 10 surgeries and is now legally blind in his left eye after wearing contacts to change his eye color, a mistake he’ll live with forever.

PAO’s Secretary of Public and Professional Information, David Armesto, MD, FACS, adds, “despite warnings that people should only use contact lenses with the help of an eye care professional, we still see “costume” contact lenses available online or at some discount stores. There was an epidemic of contaminated lenses coming out of China at one point leading to many cases of Acanthamoeba keratitis, a painful, debilitating, parasitic corneal infection leading to loss of vision, need for corneal transplantation, or even complete loss of the eye. The materials that these type of lenses are made from are typically very poor and do not allow for good oxygenation of the eye when worn. Moreover, the sterility of these products has been shown to be substandard, thereby creating substantial risk. The risk of these lenses is so severe that the PAO and AAO recommends that these lenses be banned unless supervised by an eye care professional.”

The Academy encourages the public to watch and share its “No Prescription, No Way” public service announcement <http://paeyemds.us6.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=d40ec3e9c89229ef2201f1820&id=e8f05c95d2&e=b80b9efe6e>  that shows the serious damage that these non-prescription costume contact lenses can inflict on the eyes.

Visit the Academy’s EyeSmart® website <http://paeyemds.us6.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=d40ec3e9c89229ef2201f1820&id=7f1a8f6723&e=b80b9efe6e>  to learn more about contact lens safety.

The Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology has been working to preserve and protect vision and eye health for Pennsylvania’s citizens since 1943. With member physicians throughout the Commonwealth, the PAO strives to be the voice of ophthalmology; making efforts to ensure quality eye care on the legislative and regulatory fronts, while building and maintaining relationships with major insurance carriers within the state.

[1] <#_ednref1>  Sauer, A., & Bourcier, T. 2011. Microbial keratitis as a foreseeable complication of cosmetic contact lenses: A prospective study. Acta Ophthalmologica 89 5, pp. e439-e422. DOI:10.1111/j.1755-3768.2011.02120.x 

Contact: Kelley Richwine, Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology, (717) 909-2683, pao@pamedsoc.org.