Black cape? Check. Plastic fangs? Check. Scary make-up? Check. Contact lenses to make your eyes look blood red? Unless they've been prescribed and fitted by an eye care professional, leave your novelty lenses at home this Halloween. Casey Eye Institute physicians caution that you could experience your own horror story, namely the risk of permanent vision loss from a painful eye infection or serious injury.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety and effectiveness of contact lenses and considers them a medical device. Decorative lenses, often sold on the Internet and in beauty salons and novelty shops, are illegal if purchased or sold without a valid prescription from an eye doctor. In fact, the agency recently launched "Operation Double Vision," a concerted effort to seize unapproved, illegally imported decorative and counterfeit lenses.

"Costume contact lenses tend to be made from older materials, are thicker and can have 'surface' paint or tint that affects the comfort of the lens," explains Derek Louie, M.Sc., O.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology, who specializes in medical contact lenses at Case Eye Institute. "The lenses generally aren't designed to be worn regularly," he says.

Several factors are involved that cause eye problems from non-prescription lenses, such as poor lens fit, notes Rick Fraunfelder, M.D., M.B.A., professor of ophthalmology and a cornea specialist at Casey. Not only are the lenses not manufactured according to FDA standards, but many times people are not trained to use or wear them properly.

While novelty lenses may top off your look for Halloween, the dangers outweigh the benefits and can happen quickly, says Dr. Fraunfelder. Complications may include chronic eye irritation, viral or bacterial infections, or abrasions and ulcers of the cornea which can damage eye sight.

Both Casey doctors point out that you should only purchase contact lenses for Halloween through your eye doctor. This ensures you are receiving exactly what has been prescribed and you know where to go if problems surface, says Dr. Louie.

Adds Dr. Fraunfelder, "You can come to Casey Eye Institute or see other eye care providers and get tinted contact lenses that look really nifty for Halloween."


View a recent interview with Dr. Fraunfelder on KGW-TV about the dangers of costume lenses