wearing illegal costume contact lenses
October 28, 2003
A study appearing in this month's issue of Eye & Contact Lens, the clinical journal of the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, presented six case studies of patients, teenagers and young adults, who experienced problems associated with these lenses. The vision-threatening problems included bacterial infections, corneal abrasions and allergic reactions. One 14-year-old patient needed a corneal transplant following a serious eye infection that required hospitalization and another patient was left legally blind in one eye.
"Many people mistakenly think decorative contact lenses are just like sunglasses. If you're not wearing the lenses to correct refractive errors, you don't need a prescription," said study author Thomas L. Steinemann, MD, of the MetroHealth Medical Center Eye Clinic in Cleveland and associate professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University. "This is a dangerous misconception. People who wear lenses purchased from unlicensed vendors have been given no instructions and often practice risky behavior. They don't clean or disinfect the lenses. They sleep in them. They even swap them with their friends." Another risk is the lens not fitting the cornea properly. "Imagine trying to fit a size nine foot into a size six shoe," Dr. Steinemann said.
Concerns about these contact lenses prompted the Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning earlier this month. "These decorative lenses can cause permanent eye injuries and may potentially lead to blindness," the FDA stated in a news release.
Dangers associated with these contact lenses have also caught the attention of the nation's lawmakers. Senators Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced a bill (S. 1747) that would amend the "Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act" to recognize and regulate both corrective and non-corrective contact lenses as medical devices. Unlike contact lenses worn to correct refractive errors, the FDA does not review costume contact lenses for safety or effectiveness before they are sold to the public. The U.S. House of Representatives may vote on a companion bill (H. 2218) this week, but bureaucratic wrangling has thus far stalled action on the bill. The Academy urges the public to contact their congressional representatives immediately in support of both bills.
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