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The scary risks of Halloween contact lenses

Photo by David Fagundes from Pexels

The Halloween season is upon us and, if you’re one to party on All Hallows’ Eve, chances are you’ve probably got a costume planned.

A popular trend these days – even outside of the spooky season – is to enhance your costume with a set of cosmetic lenses.

The truly scary thing about this? They can hurt your eyes, big time.

And sure, some clown contact lenses might nicely compliment your Pennywise get-up, but have you ever thought about what they’re actually doing to your eyes? If you’re wearing them without properly consulting an optometrist first, then we’re sorry to be the one to burst your bubble (or in this case, your creepy red balloon) because the answer will probably terrify you.

The problem with cosmetic contact lenses

Optometry Australia’s Luke Arundel says that Australians who source cosmetic lenses online are needlessly putting themselves at risk of severe eye infection and permanent vision loss.

“Cosmetic contact lenses, also known as decorative, novelty, fashion or crazy lenses, that are purchased online or over the counter are often unsafe, unregulated and non-Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved – although some may claim to be.

“Every year, we see a growth in the number of Australians who are accessing contact lenses from dubious sources. This unfortunately means they are at a high risk of developing serious eye complications. If you wish to wear contacts, whether recreationally or frequently, it is essential that you visit an optometrist to assess whether the lenses are suitable for your eyes.

“Not only do optometrists measure each eye specifically to fit the lenses, but they also instruct you on appropriate insertion and removal techniques and safe hygiene practices to minimise your risk of permanent eye damage. You don’t get this type of education when you buy your lenses online.”

According to a recent study conducted in Asia, and published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, cosmetic contact lens wearers who presented with corneal infections tended to be young females who acquired their lenses without a prescription. Furthermore, it found that 11% of cosmetic lens wearers had purchased their lenses via the internet, compared with only 1% of refractive lens wearers.

The study deduced that coloured or decorative lens wearers were at a much higher risk of developing eye complications partly due to poorer lens quality and partly the lack of education on hygiene and safe wear practice.

The concerning trend putting young Australians at risk

People seeking contact lenses for a once-off use, usually for an event such as Halloween, often make the mistake of treating them as accessories rather than the medical devices they are.

Arundel especially cautions young Australians who follow fads on platforms such as Instagram or TikTok (where these products regularly appear or are advertised) to be careful not to succumb to the pitfalls of buying novelty contacts from unreputable sellers.

“Rogue traders who sell novelty lenses often target unsuspecting teenagers and young adults who are usually uneducated on the dangers associated with purchasing contacts online,” Arundel says.

“Contact lenses are not toys, and shouldn’t be used without proper guidance from an eye health professional.”

Tips for safe contact lens use

It’s not all doom and gloom for Australians wanting to add a bit of flourish to their Halloween costume. In fact, there are coloured contact lenses available that are safe to use; you just have to visit your optometrist to start that conversation.

In the meantime, we recommend following these simple contact lens guidelines to keep your eyes healthy and happy:

  • Get them properly fitted by an optometrist. If you’ve made it this far, this piece of advice is really a no-brainer. But trust us, you can avoid a lot of complications by simply seeking guidance from an expert.
  • Don’t share them or swap them with a friend. They’re specifically fitted for your eyes, so don’t go sharing them! A sore red eye is not a great look – even for Halloween.
  • Clean and store them properly. This means using fresh solution specifically for contact lenses (and not tap water).
  • Remove them before showering. Oh, and don’t swim in them either. Bottom line: water and contacts don’t mix.
  • Don’t sleep in them. Remember to take them out before bedtime to ensure happy, healthy eyes.

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