The FDA regulates all contact lenses as medical devices. That includes corrective lenses and the decorative variety.
Contact lenses are illegal to sell without a prescription, but you wouldn’t know it around Halloween when millions of counterfeit lenses flood the market. They are sold everywhere from gas stations to online costume retailers for as little as $20.
Customs and Border Protection has seized about 100,000 pairs of illegal contact lenses this year and issued strong warnings against using non-prescription lenses. They also posted some scary photos of eye injuries:
The problem is that many people who wear non-prescription lenses for Halloween do not realize they are risking infection, scarring, and blindness. According to James Dinkins of Homeland Security:
Consumers shouldn’t let a good deal or great costume blind them to the dangers of counterfeit decorative contact lenses. What’s truly scary is the damage these counterfeit lenses can do to your eyes for a lifetime.”
The FDA says you should never buy decorative contact lenses over-the-counter or online. Instead, get prescription lenses from a doctor with an eye exam to make sure they fit properly. You will pay more for prescription lenses, but you won’t pay for a night of fun with permanent blindness.
Here are some seriously scary risks associated with non-prescription lenses:
- Improper fit: Contact lenses are not “one size fits all” and a poor fit can damage the eyes. Lenses can squeeze the cornea, block blood vessels, or cause scratches and ulcers.
- Toxic chemicals: Coloring pigments on the lens may contain dangerous chemicals like lead or chlorine that can leach directly into the eye and damage your vision.
- Scratches: Lenses with an uneven shape or rough texture can scratch the eyes or cause a corneal infection (ulcer or sore on the surface of the eye)
- Infections: Illegal lenses may be contaminated with high levels of bacteria due to poor sanitation. This can cause conjunctivitis (pinkeye) or even blindness in as little as 24 hours. Symptoms include redness, persistent eye pain, or vision loss.
Source: FDA Consumer Update