Purchasing Contacts without a Prescription is More Than Dangerous

HARRISBURG, Oct. 7, 2014 - A growing American trend in recent years is the use of decorative contact lenses to alter the appearance or color of the eyes. Mostly used as costume accessories around the Halloween holiday, these non-corrective, decorative lenses pose the same health issues as corrective contact lenses. Like all contacts, these should only be acquired through a prescription from a licensed optometrist.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies contact lenses as medical devices requiring a valid prescription. The accessibility of these decorative contacts have eye doctors growing increasingly concerned about the risks for consumers who purchase them illegally on the Internet, at flea markets, off-the-shelf in retail or drug stores and even on the street. The American Optometric Association (AOA) has collaborated with the FDA and the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC) to help educate consumers about only acquiring lenses with a valid prescription from an optometrist.

Decorative contact lenses, without a prescription from an eye doctor, can cause serious eye and vision problems, just like any contact lenses. Many consumers mistakenly believe a prescription is unnecessary for decorative contacts because they do not provide vision correction. It's important that consumers get an eye exam and only wear contact lenses that are properly fitted and prescribed by an optometrist, regardless if the lenses provide vision correction or not.

According to the AOA's 2014 American Eye-Q® consumer survey, 11 percent of consumers have worn decorative, non-corrective contacts, and of that 11 percent, 53 percent purchased them illegally and without a prescription. Wearing illegally purchased lenses can result in unhealthy consequences such as bacterial infections, allergic reactions or even significant damage to the eye's ability to function, which can lead to irreversible sight loss.

When used properly, contact lenses are among the safest forms of vision correction. A medical eye and vision examination from your optometrist is a great way to determine if you are eligible for contact lenses. During the exam, the eye doctor will make sure the lenses fit properly and teach you how to safely care for them.

The Pennsylvania Optometric Association (POA) identifies six common mistakes made by patients when it comes to handling contact lenses:

1. Not washing and drying hands. It is common sense to wash your hands, but the American Eye-Q® survey found that 35 percent of contact lens wearers skip this important process. Drying your hands before applying contacts is also important because tap water can contain harmful microorganisms that easily transfer from your hands, to the lens and therefore onto your eye.

2. Wearing lenses longer than recommended. Many contact lens wearers allow their contacts to overstay their welcome until irritation in the eye occurs. The American Eye-Q® survey found that 57 percent of contact lens wearers admitted to wearing disposable lenses longer than directed. Optometrists recommend a changing schedule for contact lenses to help prevent eye irritation or permanent eye damage from bacterial infections.

3. Not replacing contact lens cases regularly. Lens cases should be replaced at least every three months, with frequent cleaning and disinfecting in between replacements. Despite eye doctors recommending this, only 41 percent of contact lens wearers follow this rule.

4. Sleeping in contacts overnight. The American Eye-Q® survey revealed that 21 percent of lens wearers are guilty of this bad habit. Sleeping in contacts puts consumers at risk for eye infections unless the lenses are specifically designed for day and night use and monitored by your doctor.

5. Reusing old contact lens solution. Use only fresh solution to clean and store contact lenses. Products recommended by your optometrist to clean and disinfect lenses are the best bet. Remember that saline solution and rewetting drops do not disinfect lenses.

6. Wearing contact lenses while swimming or in a hot tub. More than a quarter of contact lens wearers report swimming in their contact lenses. This act can lead to serious sight-threatening eye infections and irritation. According to the FDA and POA, contact lenses should not be exposed to any kind of water, including tap water or water found in swimming pools, oceans, lakes, hot tubs and showers.

To educate yourself on the risks associated with decorative contact lenses, visit www.contactlensart.org. For additional resources about contact lens hygiene and safety, please visit www.contactlenssafety.org or http://pennsylvania.aoa.org/x5230.xml.

About the American Eye-Q® survey:

The ninth annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB).  From March 20-25, 2014, PSB conducted 1,000 online interviews among Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of the U.S. general population. (Margin of error is plus or minus 3.10 percentage points at a 95% confidence level)

About the Pennsylvania Optometric Association (POA):

The Pennsylvania Optometric Association is the professional organization for over 1,250 doctors of optometry in Pennsylvania. An affiliate of the American Optometric Association, POA promotes the highest quality eye and vision care by optometrists, represents optometry to state government, provides its members with post-graduate education and membership benefits, and conducts activities in the interest of the visual welfare of the public. For more information, visit www.poaeyes.org.

About the American Optometric Association (AOA):

The American Optometric Association, a federation of state, student and armed forces optometric associations, was founded in 1898. Today, the AOA is proud to represent the profession of optometry, America's family eye doctors, who take a leading role in an individual's overall eye and vision care, health and well-being. Doctors of optometry (ODs) are the independent primary health care professionals for the eye and have extensive, ongoing training to examine, diagnose, treat and manage disorders, diseases and injuries that affect the eye and visual system, providing two-thirds of primary eye care in the U.S. For information on a variety of eye health and vision topics, and to find an optometrist near you, visit www.aoa.org.