Deanne Stein, News9.com
OKLAHOMA CITY -- This Halloween, many people will be heading out to parties and events in costumes. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that one popular accessory could damage, even destroy your eyesight.
Decorative contact lenses are made to change the look of your eyes. They do not correct your vision, but instead can temporarily change your brown eyes to blue or give you "cat" or "vampire" eyes for Halloween. What many people do not realize is those cosmetic lenses are actually considered medical devices. In fact, the FDA oversees the safety and effectiveness of the lenses, just like it does for regular contact lenses. And just like regular contact lenses, the FDA warns people to never buy decorative contact lenses from a street vendor, a beauty supply store, flea market, novelty store or Halloween store.
Twenty-year-old Lucus Dixon of Midwest City found this out the hard way.
"I just thought they made me look good and made my eyes look better," said Dixon. "Usually I would take them off, but I forgot to this time and when I woke up, my eyes were really irritated, swollen and puffy. I immediately took the contacts out and it got worse and worse. At one point, my eye was swollen shut."
Dixon said he bought the contacts at a boutique shop. Turns out the lenses were illegal.
"They told me the contracts I was wearing were illegal, and I didn't even know that," said Dixon. "They [doctors] told me I'm lucky, that I got to them in time. But it was painful, a horrible constant stinging in your head. It was really scary."
Doctors say the diameter of these decorative lenses are much larger than a normal contact lens and the larger the diameter in the contact lenses, the less oxygen can get to the eye. The problem also can be from the material used to make the contacts.
"The material these lenses are made of, that people are buying at flea markets and other places, often the lens material is made off shore and is not anything that is currently used in the United States for a reason," said Dr. Donald Stone, Corneal Specialist at the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City. "It's material that doesn't breathe as well and has a much higher risk of infection. So, when you're using the lens in that scenario, you're not only increasing your risk of infection because of the lack of knowledge of how to use them safely, but they're also an inherently risky lens type and you're just putting yourself at a lot of risk that way."
Two problems people can develop after a severe infection like that are scarring of the cornea and irregular stigmatism, or warpage and distortion of the cornea. Doctors say depending on how central the scar is and how severe the warpage is, sometimes patients require a special prosthetic contact lens to regain any vision back. In a worst case scenario, patients could be forced to undergo a corneal transplant to regain vision or even save the eye.
"The recent push with Lady Gaga, the Internet and entertainment media is pushing these kids to want to be like Lady Gaga," said Carri Ferguson, Contact Lens Specialist with the Dean McGee Eye Institute. "It's very concerning because now they are wanting to emulate that image, and it's a big problem."
That doesn't mean people can't buy and wear cosmetic lenses to change the appearance of their eyes. Doctors say you just need to do it safely. Just like with regular contact lenses, you can buy the decorative lenses from an eye doctor, on the Internet or from a mail-order company. However, you should only buy contact lenses from a company that sells FDA-cleared or approved contact lenses. Also, anyone selling contact lenses must get your prescription and verify it with your doctor. If they don't ask for this information they are breaking federal law and could be selling you illegal contact lenses.
It's safety information Dixon hopes other people will heed and not risk their eyesight like he did.
"Definitely don't do it," said Dixon. "If you need them that bad, look into getting fitted for contact lenses. They are a lot more safer. They may be more expensive but when it comes down to it, your health is a lot more important than your looks."