Halloween is coming and there is always plenty of scary goings on for eye care practitioners. One of the scariest is decorative or “circle” contact lenses. This time of year, they pop up like pumpkins in costume stores and online, and you don’t need a prescription to buy them - your credit card will do. A quick Google search for “Halloween contact lenses” yielded three costume shops and an online seller in my area on the first of 19 pages of results. I started the purchasing process online for one of the shops and the online seller, and in both cases, got all the way to the checkout without having to verify my prescription. Terrifying!
It’s no coincidence that Prevent Blindness named October Contact Lens Safety Awareness Month. People who buy contact lenses over the counter to add an extra dimension to their Halloween costumes, spike the already frightening statistics about contact lens abuse. According to a recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 25% of contact lens-related infections are due to avoidable behaviors such as improper use, poor lens hygiene and sleeping while wearing lenses, among others. An even more fearsome statistic was that more than 80% of contact lens wearers reported at least one behavior that put them at risk for a contact lens-related eye infection.
It’s important to remember that contact lenses are medical devices regulated by the FDA, and may be sold only by prescription in the US, even if they are decorative. Still, the invasion continues year round. The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that costume contact lenses tend to be thicker, allowing less oxygen to reach the cornea. Patterns and coloring may result in uneven lens surfaces that can result in corneal abrasion. The AAO also notes that some of the illegal lenses are counterfeit, even if the site says they are FDA approved, and others may be repackaged, and so contaminated. A study in Japan, where the lenses are very popular, found that some lenses contained chlorine and iron as part of the coloring. Horrors!
Prevent Blindness reminds contact lens wearers not to use tap water to rinse contact lenses. Tap water doesn’t have the disinfectant properties of contact lens solutions, and presents a risk of acanthamoeba infection. They also caution against topping off contact lens solutions and recommend replacing lens cases every three months. And of course there’s proper handwashing with soap and water before handling lenses. (A contact lens specialist I know advises his patients to wash their hands for the length of time it takes them to sing “Happy Birthday” to ensure a thorough cleansing.)
What can we do to ease our fears? Educate our contact lens patients to avoid risky contact lens behaviors, and ask questions about their contact lens habits at every visit. If you know of a shop that is selling contact lenses illegally, you can report the activity to the FDA at www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/medwatch/. Many shop owners don’t realize that the contact lens sales are illegal, so you might want to speak to them in a friendly way as a professional. You can also learn more about how contact lenses of all types have applications beyond vision correction with our CE Therapeutic Contact Lenses and Beyond at 2020mag.com/ce. Happy Halloween!