Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a new warning to consumers about the dangers of purchasing “copycat” eye drop brands online, reigniting the conversation about how important it is to be aware of counterfeit products infiltrating ecommerce platforms.
“Imitation eye drops attempt to mimic the appearance and branding of popular, trusted eye drop brands. These products often promise similar benefits at a fraction of the cost, making them attractive to budget-conscious consumers. However, beneath the surface lies a host of potential dangers that can compromise your eye health and well-being,” said Luke Arundel, Chief Clinical Officer at Optometry Australia.
Opening your eyes to the hidden risks of copycat eye drops
From contamination by harmful pathogens to the presence of unknown or unregulated ingredients, the hazards posed by counterfeit eye drops are real.
- Counterfeit eye drops are often manufactured in unregulated facilities with little to no oversight. As a result, these products may be contaminated with bacteria, fungi or other pathogens that can lead to infections and other serious complications
- Unlike authentic products, which undergo rigorous testing and quality control measures, counterfeit eye drops may contain harmful unknown or unregulated substances that can cause adverse reactions or exacerbate existing eye conditions
- Imitation eye drops may lack the active ingredients necessary to provide the intended therapeutic effect. This means that while they may appear like genuine products, they may not actually alleviate symptoms or provide relief
What contaminated eye drops can do to your ocular health
These new warnings from the FDA about copycat eye drops come after bacterial contamination of artificial tears were linked to a series of hospitalisations earlier in 2023, including 14 patients with vision loss, an additional four requiring enucleation (removal of the eye) and four deaths.
While such severe consequences are rare, contaminated eye drops remain responsible for various eye health issues, both temporary and permanent.
- Contaminated eye drops can introduce nasty bugs and bacteria to the surface of the eye, leading to conditions like conjunctivitis. Symptoms may include redness, itching, discharge, and swelling of the eye or eyelids
- Bacterial or fungal contamination of eye drops can result in corneal infections, such as keratitis. These infections can cause pain, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and in severe cases, may lead to corneal ulcers or scarring
- Contaminants in eye drops can trigger allergic reactions in some individuals, leading to symptoms such as itching, redness, swelling and watery eyes
- Particulate matter or foreign bodies present in contaminated eye drops can scratch or cause corneal abrasion resulting in pain, discomfort and potential vision disturbances
- In rare but severe cases, untreated infections or complications arising from contaminated eye drops can lead to permanent vision loss or damage to the structures of the eye
Don’t be blindsided - tips for safe purchasing
There are steps consumers can take to make informed decisions about the products they are purchasing to mitigate the risk of ending up with counterfeit eye drops.
- When in doubt, consult with a qualified healthcare professional, such as an optometrist or pharmacist, before purchasing or using eye drops. They can provide guidance on safe and effective treatment options tailored to your specific needs
- Purchase eye drops from trusted Australian based online retailers with tighter regulation and safety controls, pharmacies or brick-and-mortar stores with a proven track record of selling authentic pharmaceutical products
- Look for certifications or seals of approval from recognised regulatory bodies, such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) or FDA
- Inspect the packaging and labeling for signs of tampering or inconsistency. Genuine products should have clear labeling, identifiable batch numbers and intact seals
So, while the convenience of purchasing eye drops online may be tempting, it's essential to exercise caution and diligence.
Knowledge is power and by being informed, Aussies can protect themselves from the hidden dangers lurking in the online eye drop marketplace.
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