Five Reasons to Avoid Halloween Contacts…or at least wear them safely!
Dressing up for Halloween is tons of fun and the more over the top the cost the more fun, it seems. Don’t let exuberance over your attire impact your health!
Every year, colored Halloween contacts (contact lenses) become more popular and more widespread. They are a seemingly easy way to drastically alter your appearance and enhance a costume. However, risk for this particular costume accessory is high. Contact lenses are classified as medical devices. It is illegal to sell them to someone without a prescription. Even folks with perfect vision need a prescription written by an eye specialists who has fitted you according to the size of your cornea. Cheap, over-the-counter contact lenses are are regulated by the FDA and you may be setting yourself up for a host of potential problems by using them.
A corneal abrasion is, simply, a scratch of the surface of the eye, specifically the cornea. Think of the cornea as similar to the clear crystal covering over a watch face. When the cornea is scratched it can cause severe pain, tearing of the eyes, eye redness, blurry vision, swollen eyelids and can lead to infection. Fortunately, abrasions can heal fast, but, given the potential for serious complications and, often the need for pain control, we recommend an exam to ensure there is no foreign body stuck in your eye and to ensure there is not a more serious problem.
Conjunctivitis is an infection of the inner part of the eyelid and the white part of the eye. This is what is commonly referred to as “pink eye.” Conjunctivitis can cause a red eye, thick discharge that often will cause the eyelashes to stick together and, can impact vision by making things blurry. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi. It is often treated with topical antibiotics and other medications. Infections caused by contact lenses can be more tricky and will require follow up with an eye specialists to ensure your cornea is healing and you do not have a more complicated infection. You also can’t wear your normal contact lenses until your eyes have healed, so make sure you have a pair of glasses!
Keratitis is an infection or inflammation of the cornea. It can be caused by the same infectious bugs as conjunctivitis and keratitis, but can also be caused by minor injury, such as chemical burns, or even bright sunlight (especially that reflecting off our beautiful Colorado ski slopes). Symptoms include: eye redness, pain, sensation of something in your eye, persistent watering of the eye, discharge, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and eyelid swelling which are similar to those symptoms seen in conjunctivitis. You should seek care for these symptoms as they can lead to corneal ulceration and permanent vision problems.
Corneal ulcerations stem from wide variety of causes such as infection, physical and chemical trauma (abrasions and burns), corneal drying and exposure, and contact lens overwear and misuse. It is an open sore on the cornea (which sounds just as awful as this problem can be)! Symptoms of a corneal ulcer can be similar to this seen in conjunctivitis and keratitis and can also include white spots on your cornea that you can often, but not always see in the the mirror. Corneal ulcers can cause severe damage to your eye including permanent blindness and you should seek care immediately.
Tight Lens Syndrome
When you go to an eye doctor for contacts they measure the size and shape of your cornea to prescribe the appropriate lens. Incorrectly sized contacts can squeeze the cornea causing decreased blood flow to the cornea which decreases the oxygen the cornea receives and can result in swelling of the cornea. It can be difficult to remove the lens, cause corneal abrasions and severe dryness of the cornea. When severe enough you may need to visit a physician or optometrist to get help removing the lens. This problem is made worse by sleeping in lenses that are not properly fitted!
If the contact lens you are purchasing are not from a regulated source, it is impossible to verify the age of the lens or if they are sterile-packed. The likelihood of contamination by bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections is high in this scenario. Fortunately, many infections can be treated easily, but all can all lead to more severe problems including blindness. Why spend a lot of money after the fact on expensive treatments? If you want decorative lenses for Halloween:
- Get an eye exam with a prescription that is tailor-made for you.
- Follow care and handling instructions that come with your contacts to minimize the risk of damage and infection.
- Remove the contacts immediately with redness, pain or discharge
- Do not share contacts! Remember: your eyes, your fit!
- Don’t buy contacts from an unlicensed facility that will see it to you without a prescription