It's Almost Halloween: "Costume Contacts Scarred My Eye"

Just 10 hours after she first put in a pair of colored contact lenses that she’d bought at a souvenir shop, Laura Butler of Parkersburg, W.Va., had "extreme pain in both eyes," she said. "Because I had not been properly fitted by an eye care professional, the lenses stuck to my eye like a suction cup."

Colored contact lenses are popular year-round for people who want to change the color of their iris. But every year at Halloween there is a surge of people using colored contact lenses to enhance their costumes.

However, few know the risks associated with these lenses. "Most people believe that decorative lenses do not require the same level of care or consideration as a standard contact lens because they can be purchased over-the-counter or on the Internet," says Thomas Steinemann, MD, professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "This is far from the truth."

Non-Prescription Costume Contacts Are Illegal

It's illegal to sell any contact lenses without a prescription in the United States. All contact lenses are medical devices that require a prescription and proper fitting by an eye-care professional. "Many of the lenses found online or in beauty salons, novelty shops or in pop-up Halloween stores are not FDA-approved and are being sold illegally," Dr. Steinemann said. Retailers that sell contacts without a prescription are breaking the law and could be fined for each violation.

Never buy colored contact lenses from a retailer who doesn’t ask for a prescription. 

Why Do You Need a Prescription for Costume Contact Lenses?

Even if you have perfect vision, you need to get an eye exam and a prescription from an eye care professional before you wear any kind of contact lens. A prescription ensures that the lens is a proper fit for your eye, among other things. If the lens doesn't fit properly, it could prove difficult to remove and cause serious injury.

In Butler's case, the lenses caused an infection and left her with a corneal abrasion. "I was in severe pain and on medication for four weeks and couldn't see well enough to drive for eight weeks," she said. "I now live with a corneal scar, vision damage and a drooping eyelid."