The Dangers of Halloween Contact Lenses

For some people, Halloween is more exciting than celebrating their birthday. The thought of gasping in fear as they walk through a haunted house outshines exhaling to exhaust the flame of a birthday candle.

However, there are a few aspects of Halloween that can endanger eye health and safety. It's the OD's duty to keep patients informed before they plan their costumes. If you have patients at your practice who are Halloween junkies, then this post is for you.

This post was originally written by our partners at the Optical Journal.

Informing Your Patients On Halloween Contacts

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. This is why the American Academy of Ophthalmology is 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. The FDA issued a warning on the risks associated with contacts here. In some cases, the top layer of your cornea can be ripped off, after a mere four hours of wearing non-prescription contact lenses that you buy 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.

 “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.


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Originally published in 2016. Updated in 2021 for richness of content.

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