FDA Warns Consumers about Buying Decorative Contact Lenses

Decorative contact lenses are FDA regulated

Would you believe that it can actually be cheaper to go to your local eye doctor for an eye exam and an order of decorative contact lenses than it is buying a pair of off-the-shelf lenses at a convenience or souvenir shop? Here’s how one person learned this lesson the hard way warns the FDA.

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Known as “decorative contact lenses,” fashion contact lenses,” or “colored contact lenses,” these non-corrective vision lenses with designs and unusual color schemes can be a fun way to accessorize your face. However that fun can quickly lead to a risk of blindness.

According to an FDA Consumer Update, Ms. Laura Butler paid just $30 for her decorative lenses at a souvenir shop while on vacation, but wound up with $2,000 in medical bills and nearly losing one of her eyes.

Her troubles began the day after she started wearing them when she felt a sharp pain in her left eye that necessitated her having to pull off to the side of the road to remove them while driving home. Once removed, her pain worsened and she had to seek help from an opthalmologist who diagnosed her left eye as suffering from a corneal abrasion.

“The doctor said it was as if someone took sandpaper and sanded my cornea,” she says. “He said he wasn’t going to sugar-coat it, that I could lose my eyesight or could lose my eye,” stated Ms. Butler.

It took her nearly two months to recover from her eye injury, during which she was in constant pain and unable to drive. She also suffered a drooping eyelid for five months, and still has decreased vision in her eye.

According to the FDA, if only she had chosen to buy her decorative lenses from a licensed optometrist―two sets of lenses for $50 plus $60 for an eye exam―she could have saved herself a lot of physical and emotional pain and a significant amount of money.


7 Facts about Decorative Contact Lenses

• Decorative contact lenses don’t correct vision—they just change the appearance of the eye.

• Decorative contact lenses are not cosmetics or over-the-counter merchandise; rather, they are actually medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

• Places that advertise decorative contact lenses as cosmetics or sell them without a prescription are breaking the law.

• Decorative contact lenses are not “one size fits all”―they must be measured and fitted for each eye by an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

• Poorly fitting lenses can cause serious eye damage, including:

o scratches on the cornea (the clear dome of tissue over the iris―the part of the eye that gives you your eye color)
o corneal infection (an ulcer on the cornea)
o conjunctivitis (pink eye)
o decreased vision
o blindness

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• Places that sell decorative lenses without a prescription may give you few or no instructions on how to clean and care for your lenses.

• Bacterial infections are common and can lead to blindness—sometimes within as little as 24 hours if not diagnosed and treated promptly.

“The problem isn’t with the decorative contacts themselves,” says Bernard Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed., an optometrist at FDA. “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.”

Avoid buying decorative contact lenses from unauthorized distributors of contact lenses such as:

• 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 prescription)

5 FDA-recommended Tips on How to Buy Decorative Contact Lenses Safely:

• Get an eye exam from a licensed eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist), even if you feel your vision is perfect.

• Get a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements, and an expiration date. But don’t expect your eye doctor to prescribe anime, or circle, lenses. These bigger-than-normal lenses that give the wearer a wide-eyed, doll-like look have not been approved by FDA.

• Buy the lenses from a seller that requires you to provide a prescription, whether you go in person or shop online.

• Follow directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses, and visit your eye doctor for follow-up eye exams.

• See your eye doctor right away if you have signs of possible eye infection:

o Redness
o eye pain that doesn’t go away after a short time
o decrease in vision

For more about contact lens safety, here are the Top 3 Bad Habits of Contact Lens Wearers.

Reference: FDA Consumer Update “Decorative Contact Lenses: Is Your Vision Worth It?”

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