Those Halloween Contact Lenses Can Seriously Mess Up Your Eyes

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No doubt you’re currently thinking of ways to take your Halloween costume to the next level. And while you’ve probably seen Halloween contact lenses at your local costume shop or online, experts say it’s best to take a pass.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology(AAO) warns that many of the decorative contact lenses that can be bought online and may not be approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration. (Contact lenses are considered “medical devices” by the FDA and are regulated. Ones that are sold over-the-counter without a prescription are unregulated and technically breaking the law, per theFDA.)

They can also contain potentially harmful ingredients. Research published in the journal Eye & Contact Lens in 2015 found that non-prescription contact lenses can contain chlorine and iron, among other potentially toxic ingredients, which are used to tint and create patterns on the lenses. During the study, scientists found that one pair seeped chlorine after a routine rinse, and others had an uneven texture that could scratch the surface of the wearer’s eye.

“Halloween contact lenses can really enhance the effect of a great Halloween costume, and they can be a lot of fun,” Jeffrey J. Walline, O.D., Ph.D., the associate dean for research at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, tells SELF. “However, even Halloween contact lenses that do not correct your vision are medical devices and must be fit by an eye care practitioner.” These lenses should never be purchased without a prescription from an eye care practitioner, even if they don’t make your vision clearer, he adds.

Emily MacQuaid, M.D., F.A.C.S., of Katzen Eye Group, tells SELF that Halloween contacts you buy in a store or online can be “very dangerous,” adding “I would highly recommend against using them.”

The problem is often with the fit. While these lenses are marketed as one-size-fits-all, everyone’s eyes are different—and that can lead to problems for costume lens-wearers. “If contact lenses do not fit properly, they can lead to irritated eyes at best and an eye infection at worst,” Walline says. MacQuaid agrees. “Irritation typically is an indication of an improper fit,” she says. “There is a reason why yearly contact lens fitting and visits are required.”

Of course, it’s possible to wear these and have no issues, but it’s also possible to have serious repercussions. “If you are one of the unlucky people who has a problem, then you can experience extreme pain and even permanent loss of vision,” Walline says.

The AAO warns that the contacts have the potential to cause corneal ulcers (an open sore on the outer layer of the eye) or keratitis (inflammation of the cornea). “Both of these conditions can result in scarring that impairs vision or causes blindness,” the organization says on its website. “For this reason, the Academy advises against wearing decorative lenses without a prescription.”

If the contacts end up scratching your eye or just fit poorly, there’s a potential to develop a bacterial infection. “That is the ‘worst’ possible outcome, and it can develop rapidly,” Walline says. That’s why doctors recommend that people remove the lens when they experience eye irritation and call a doctor if it doesn’t get better in a couple of hours. “It is best to treat an eye infection as early as possible,” Walline says.

If you really want to wear special lenses as part of your costume, see your eye doctor for help. Thomas L. Steinemann, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, tells SELF that you can go to an eye care professional, tell them you want costume lenses, get fitted, and then receive a pair that are FDA-approved. “Even if you’re not wearing a contact for correction, you still need a prescription because it still has to fit the contour of your eye, which is unique,” he explains.

Just keep this in mind: You need to treat them like you would any other type of contact lenses. That means you need to store them in contact lens solution (not tap water), rinse them after use, refrain from putting them right back in your eye if they fall out, and avoid sleeping in them. “Theatrical lenses don’t breathe very well,” Steinemann says, and keeping them on your eyes for longer than needed just isn’t great for your overall eye health. However, follow those basic recommendations with a fitted pair of decorative lenses, and doctors say you should be fine.

Related:

  • 9 Gross Things Every Contact Lens Wearer Seriously Needs To Know
  • Seriously, Sleeping In Your Contacts Is So Dangerous
  • This Is Exactly What You Should Do If Your Contact Lens Gets Lost In Your Eye

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