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UTHSC Ophthalmologists Warn Non-Prescription Costume Contact Lenses Can Be Hazardous for Your Eyes


Dr. Waite shows patient a corneal ulcer

Aaron Waite, MD, shows a patient a close up of a corneal ulcer, the white mark in the center of the photo.

Those costume contact lenses may make you look like a zombie on “The Walking Dead,” but doctors from the Hamilton Eye Institute at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center warn that they may have dire consequences for your eyesight.

Non-prescription contact lenses, which may not fit correctly or meet health and safety standards, can damage your eyes, even if worn for a brief period, said Tom O’Donnell, MD, an assistant professor and neuro-ophthalmologist at the Hamilton Eye Institute. The damage can include scratches or painful infections.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen several patients come in with corneal ulcers,” he said. (The cornea is the clear covering over the iris or colored area of the eye.) These infections can be treated with antibiotics, but typically leave scars on the cornea. Scarring around the edges of the cornea may not affect vision. If in the center, however, permanent vision loss may result.

“We’ve seen one patient that had a very large central scar after the infection was treated, who was going to need a corneal transplant to improve the vision,” Dr. O’Donnell said. “These infections can be serious. As Halloween approaches, we’re concerned we may see more.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is warning consumers against buying costume contact lenses that are not prescribed by an eye care professional, such as an ophthalmologist or a retailer who requires a prescription and sells FDA-approved products.

“Federal law classifies all contact lenses as medical devices and restricts their distribution to licensed eye care professionals,” according to information from the AAO. “Illegal sale of contact lenses can result in civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation.”

The organization cautions consumers to beware of advertising claims that “one size fits all,” and never to share contacts or wear expired lenses.

Ophthalmologist, Aaron Waite, MD, a cornea specialist and director of the Cornea, Cataract and Refractive Surgery Program at the Hamilton Eye Institute, said when consumers buy contact lenses from an eye care professional, they can be sure they fit correctly and will be instructed as to how to properly clean them, the length of time it is safe to wear them and what symptoms indicate an infection.

“There’s going to be the cost of the exam,” Waite said. “But keep in mind, that’s going to be a small price to pay for maintaining their vision.

Founded in 2004, Hamilton Eye Institute (HEI) consistently ranks among the top 10 providers of ophthalmic clinical care across the country. Its mission is to prevent blindness through patient care, research and education. As a premier eye center providing an advanced level of vision care, the institute’s team manages more than 40,000 outpatient visits annually. Now under its new chairman, James C. Fleming, MD, FACS, the institute continues to attract patients from throughout the region and the world. HEI is the only university eye center providing an advanced level of vision care within a 150-mile radius of Memphis.