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Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Halloween Safety Warning: Frightening Risks of Non-Prescription Costume Contact Lenses

Posted: 10.13.2016

Photo credit: American Academy of Ophthalmology

Wearing costume contact lenses to enhance your Halloween costume may seem like a good idea, but beware, dangerous chemicals and painful infections can lead to permanent eye damage and vision loss. Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and the American Academy of Ophthalmology are warning costume shoppers about over-the-counter decorative lenses after a recent study found that several varieties tested positive for chlorine and other harmful chemicals.

The research published in Eye & Contact Lens: Science & Clinical Practice found chlorine in three types of non-prescription costume contact lenses. Iron was found on four pairs of lenses. The chemicals may come from colorants used to tint and create playful patterns on the lenses. One pair seeped chlorine after a routine rinse, prompting concern from researchers about toxicity to the eye. The study also noted that colorants printed or pressed onto some decorative lenses create an uneven texture. Those rough surfaces could scratch the eyes, potentially allowing in bacteria that can cause infection and even blindness.

Four of the five lenses in the study are not available legally in the United States because they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Despite that sales restriction, many decorative lenses of unknown origin can be bought online, at beauty parlors or even gas stations.

Dr. Guillermo Amescua, assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, advises, “Contact lenses worn without a doctor’s prescription greatly increase the possibility of serious complications. These lenses may cause injuries such as cuts and open sores in the cornea, as well as bacterial infections, which could lead to corneal scarring and vision loss.” Dr. Amescua said additional risks include conjunctivitis (pink eye), swelling of the eye (corneal edema), sensitivity to light, and allergic reactions.

For these reasons, Bascom Palmer and the Academy advise consumers against wearing decorative lenses without a prescription.