Planning to use novelty or decorative contact lenses as part of your Halloween costume? You may want to reconsider after hearing Laura Butler's story.
Butler paid $30 for her decorative lenses and $2,000 in medical bills. And she nearly lost an eye.
While on vacation, Butler of Parkersburg, W.Va., bought a pair of blue contact lenses at a souvenir shop. The brown-eyed Butler just wanted to try a different eye color for fun, she says.
“They felt fine, but they moved around on my eyes and I had to adjust them with my finger,” says Butler.
As she was driving home the next day, Butler felt a sharp pain in her left eye. “It was such excruciating pain, I had to quickly pull over on the side of the road.” It took her 20 minutes to remove the contacts, she says, which had stuck to her eyes like suction cups. She drove home “with pain that was indescribable.”
After a trip to the ER and then to an ophthalmologist, Butler was diagnosed with 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.”
While under the care of the doctor for several weeks, Butler says she was lucky to not get an infection, “But the pain was agonizing. I used to lay on the floor and roll back and forth in a fetal position for hours.”
Butler couldn’t see well enough to drive for eight weeks, had a drooping eyelid for five months, and still has decreased vision in her eye, she says. And she found out her optometrist could have ordered two sets of lenses for $50 and charged $60 for an eye exam.
Her advice: Don’t buy fashion lenses. If you do, “Take the time to go to the doctor, pay the extra money, and save yourself the agony.”
FDA warns about the danger of decorative contact lens use
With Halloween approaching, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning of the potential risks involved with using non-prescription contact lenses, including damaging your cornea, infection, decreased vision, or even blindness.
Before buying contact lenses, here’s what you should know:
Fashion (novelty or decorative) contact lenses are not regulated by the FDA like prescription contact lenses, which are considered a medical device. Places that advertise decorative lenses as cosmetics or sell them without a prescription are breaking the law.
Contacts are not “one size fits all.” An eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) must measure each eye to properly fit the lenses and evaluate how your eye responds to contact lens wear. A poor fit can cause serious eye damage.
Many people who purchase novelty contacts as part of a Halloween costume are unfamiliar with the care and handling requirements of contact lenses. Failure to use the proper solution to keep contact lenses clean and moist can lead to infections, says Bernard Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed., an optometrist at FDA. “Bacterial infections can be extremely rapid, result in corneal ulcers, and cause blindness—sometimes within as little as 24 hours if not diagnosed and treated promptly.”
“The problem isn’t with the decorative contacts themselves,” adds Lepri. “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.”
Still interested in those blood-red lenses for Halloween? FDA guidelines recommend that you get an eye exam from a licensed eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist), get a prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements, and an expiration date. Buy the lenses from a seller that requires you to provide a prescription, whether you go in person or shop online. And be sure to follow directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses.