In the lead up to Halloween, which has steadily increased in popularity in Australia, the peak national body for optometry poses a question: What’s scarier than a black-eyed vampire on Halloween?
The answer? A teenager crying in pain due to corneal scratches or an awful eye infection caused by their novelty contact lenses.
Sophie Koh, resident optometrist at Optometry Australia said “while we don’t want to be party poopers on an increasingly festive occasion in Australia, it’s critical to raise awareness of the horrifying hazards of novelty contact lenses, which are also increasing in availability.”
Ms Koh advised that buying novelty lenses online or over the counter can lead to eye infections, corneal damage and even permanent blindness.
“Never mess with your eyes,” she said. “Always seek professional guidance from an optometrist before using novelty contact lenses.”
To date, numerous cases of serious harm to the eyes have been documented when people have used novelty contact lenses that they have purchased without a prescription.
“The surface of the eye is extremely delicate and wearing non-prescribed novelty contact lenses, particularly those from a dubious source, could cause a range of eye damage,” she said.
“Contact lenses are not ‘one size fits all’ and if people want to enhance their Halloween look with fancy dress lenses, it is important to make sure the lenses are prescribed by an optometrist who will measure each eye to properly fit the lenses and evaluate how the eye responds to contact lens wear using a microscope.
“The optometrist will then instruct them on appropriate insertion and removal techniques and correct contact lens care to minimise the risk of irreversible eye damage,” said Ms Koh.
Suppliers of playfully packaged novelty contact lenses often target unsuspecting teenagers and young adults who are usually unaware of their danger.
“Many people are using contacts for the first time when they buy them for a costume and they often don’t know how to insert and remove the lenses safely. This further increases the risk of scratching or damaging the eye.
“If they are hanging in a Halloween display in a shop we absolutely advise you to leave them there.
“Going that extra mile by making your eyes part of your Halloween costume is not worth the horrors that could result from wearing fake contact lenses”, Ms Koh said.
A recent study also found that cosmetic contact lenses available online often circumvent regulation from safety agencies such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and can contain harmful chemicals such as chlorine, which can seep from the colourants in the lens to cause toxicity problems for the eyes.