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Ohio Optical Dispensers Board Warns of Dangers of Over the Counter Contact Lenses


October 19, 2015 - 11:57 AM


COLUMBUS —Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, The Ohio Affiliate of Prevent Blindness, and the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board today warned consumers about the dangers of wearing decorative contact lenses without a valid prescription. 

“To be worn safely, decorative contacts should be sold with a prescription and dispensed by a licensed professional, even if they’re just part of your Halloween costume,” Attorney General DeWine said. “We’re encouraging all Ohioans to be careful this Halloween and not take any chances with their eyesight.”

Legally, all contact lenses, including cosmetic or plano (no power) lenses, must be purchased with a prescription, but some cosmetic contacts are sold illegally online or in costume stores, tattoo parlors, beauty supply stores, gas stations, convenience stores, or thrift stores. 

Nancy Manns, Executive Director of the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board, says, “Illegal dispensing of cosmetic contact lenses remains a serious health problem, especially among teens, who may be lured into purchasing cosmetic contact lenses with the promise that they will ‘stand out’ among their friends because they are wearing color-changing or wild costume lenses. Little do they know that they may stand out for other reasons—perhaps because they have lost vision in an eye as a result of an infection from improper fitting contact lenses.”

Manns added, “At this time of year, when costume shops start to proliferate, it’s important for anyone who knows where illegal dispensing or selling of contact lenses is occurring to notify the Optical Dispensers Board. The Board will accept anonymous reports.”

Ill-fitting lenses can cause eye pain, bacterial infections, and corneal ulcers. One study found that wearing decorative lenses increased the risk for developing keratitis, a potentially blinding infection that causes an ulcer in the eye. This increased risk was over 16 times more likely than those seen in vision correcting (“regular”) lenses. 

“You may want to look like your favorite movie star or have a unique look for Halloween, but choosing to change the look of your eyes with contact lenses could cause a lot of damage to your eyesight if you do not get them without a prescription from your eye care professional. While these decorative contact lenses can add a fun flourish to a costume, they can also result in devastating eye infections, scarring and even blindness,” said Sherry Williams, President and CEO of The Ohio Affiliate of Prevent Blindness. 

“I’ve seen many young patients who were not aware of the dangers of these products and are now living with permanent vision loss,” said Thomas L. Steinemann, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University/MetroHealth Medical Center and a Prevent Blindness volunteer. “Parents should be on the alert to protect their children’s vision by assuring that their contact lenses are worn only under the supervision of an eye doctor.”

Prevent Blindness offers the following safety tips regarding cosmetic contact lenses:

  • Always visit a licensed eye care professional to be fitted for cosmetic contact lenses.
  • Never buy contact lenses without a prescription.
  • Always clean and disinfect contact lenses according to instructions.
  • Always use water-soluble cosmetics or those labeled safe for use with contact lenses. Do not apply skin creams or moisturizers too close to the eyes.
  • Never wear opaque lenses if you have any problems with night vision.
  • Never share or trade your contact lenses with anyone.
  • Seek medical attention right away and remove your contact lenses if your eyes are red, have ongoing pain or discharge. Be watchful about your children’s or teens’ appearance. If they are wearing cosmetic contacts, question them about where they obtained them.

Attorney General DeWine encourages Ohioans to report illegal sales of contact lenses to the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board at 614-466-9709. As a U.S. senator, DeWine sponsored the legislation that requires consumers to obtain a prescription from a licensed professional to purchase contact lenses, including corrective and non-corrective lenses.

Images, courtesy of Dr. Thomas L. Steinemann, of serious eye injuries caused by illegally sold lenses (photo 1; photo 2) and an image, courtesy of the FDA, of an unauthorized cosmetic contact lens display, are available on the Ohio Attorney General's website.

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