Some contacts can be a fright Eye warnings given on nonprescribed lenses

Decorative contact lenses are popular for Halloween, but ophthalmologists say the products can cause serious, painful eye infections and injuries if purchased without a prescription.

Halloween is just two weeks away, and whether you have your costume ready or not, vision professionals say you may want to opt out of wearing nonprescription “decorative” contact lenses, such as cat eyes and glow-in-the-dark lizard eyes.

“The issue is that decorative contact lenses are not risk-free,” says Dr. John Kulze, an ophthalmologist at the Eye Care Center of Charleston. “Without a proper fit (of the lenses), the surface of the eye can start to break down within hours of wearing them.”

Kulze says the result can be inflammation of the cornea, or keratitis, scarring and possible permanent damage and vision loss. He says part of the problem is that decorative lenses are marketed to youths and teens and that even adults may have the impression that the lenses don’t require the same care as regular lenses. For example, he says people sometimes share the lenses.

While Kulze admits that he doesn’t see large numbers of people with problems flooding his office after Halloween every year, he does note that the issue is important enough for the both the American Academy of Ophthalmology and S.C. Society of Ophthalmology to issue warnings.

In fact, the sale of decorative contact lenses without a prescription is illegal. In 2005, the federal government classified all contact lenses as medical devices and restricted distribution to licensed eye care professionals. Illegal sales of the lenses can result in civil penalties up to $11,000.

The academy notes that the sale of some decorative lenses, including circle lenses, are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The national group issued video public service announcements.

And for those of you who ignore the warnings or notice redness, swelling, excessive discharge, pain or discomfort from wearing contact lenses, professionals recommend removing the lenses and seeking immediate medical attention from an ophthalmologist.

Eye infections like keratitis can quickly become serious and cause blindness if left untreated.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.