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Monthly Observances October
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October is Halloween Safety Month

Scary-looking costume 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 Arkansas Ophthalmological Society 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. One young man is now legally blind in one eye after wearing colored contact lenses he bought at a gas station. He’s suffered multiple eye infections, a cataract, and secondary glaucoma, all of which required surgery.

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

1. Scratches to the eyeIf 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.

2. Infection – Research shows wearing non-prescription contacts increases the risk of an infection called keratitis by 16 times.1 Early treatment with antibiotics 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.   

3. Pink eyeNever 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 some home remedies and antibiotic eye drops.  

4. Decreased vision – Whether from a corneal scratch or infection, wearing non-prescription contacts can lead to decreased vision. 

5. Blindness – It’s no scare tactic: wearing non-prescription contacts can lead to permanent vision loss. Learn how to take proper care of your contact lenses to avoid dangerous eye infections.

"It's just not worth it," said Thomas L. Steinemann, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "One night of the perfect Halloween costume isn’t worth risking your vision. If you must have contact lenses for any reason, do not buy over-the-counter lenses. Protect your vision by getting prescription lenses from an eye health professional.”

The Academy encourages the public to watch and share its
"No Prescription, No Way” public service announcement that shows the serious damage that these non-prescription costume contact lenses can inflict on the eyes. 

Visit the Academy’s EyeSmart® website to learn more about contact lens safety. 

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1 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