Ophthalmologists Warn of Five Frightening Risks of Wearing Contact Lenses Without a Prescription

The South Carolina Society of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Ophthalmology share patient stories, urge Halloween revelers to avoid over-the-counter lenses

South Carolina – October 2017 – Zombie or devil 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 South Carolina Society of Ophthalmology 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 girl became partially blind in her left eye, the top layer of her cornea having been ripped off, after a mere four hours of wearing non-prescription contact lenses she bought at a jewelry booth.

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 eye – If 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. Early treatment with antibiotic 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 eye – Never 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 antibiotic 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. Julian Hamlin has had more than 10 surgeries and is now legally blind in his left eye after wearing contacts to change his eye color, a mistake he’ll live with forever.

“One night of the perfect Halloween costume isn’t worth risking your vision,” said Thomas L. Steinemann, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “If you must have contact lenses to complete your costume, avoid over-the-counter ones at all costs. 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.

About the South Carolina Society of Ophthalmology
The South Carolina Society of Ophthalmology (“SCSO”) is one of the nation’s most recognized and nationally acclaimed State Eye Societies comprised of Eye Physicians and Surgeons specializing in the medical eye practice area of ophthalmology. The South Carolina Society has been recognized repeatedly for its Patient Advocacy programs and its State Physician Leadership, and its Executive Director has received multiple National Awards of Excellence from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
The current president of the SCSO is Edward G. Mintz, MD, PhD, of the Columbia Eye Clinic, and the current Vice –President is Trey Bishop, MD, of Hilton Head. Blake Myers, MD, of Jervey Eye Group serves as Chairman of the Legislative Committee and the Fellows Council with Malcom Edwards, MD, of Lancaster Eye serving as Secretary -Treasurer. Jack Wells, MD, of Palmetto Retina serves as Public Information Chair with Kurt Heitman serving as the national chair of the AAO State Affairs Committee and Todd Gwin, MD of Spartanburg serving as the State Councilor. Ron Scott, JD, MBA, M. Acct., serves as the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer.

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. A global community of 32,000 medical doctors, we protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public. We innovate to advance our profession and to ensure the delivery of the highest-quality eye care. Our EyeSmart® program provides the public with the most trusted information about eye health. For more information, visit www.aao.org.