There’s nothing like Halloween to allow yourself to explore the depths of fantasy and concoct a truly creative costume. But think twice before you add coloured non-prescription contact lenses to your get-up.
They could cause a host of issues, including corneal infections, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and even blindness. In 2011, Health Canada lobbied to amend the Food & Drug Act to classify cosmetic contact lenses as class II medical devices; the new regulation was passed and came into effect in July 2016. This means they need to be prescribed and sold through a medical distributor. So, if you come across coloured contact lenses at a novelty shop or drugstore, don’t buy them.
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Take it from Julian Hamlin, a 25-year-old from South Carolina, who says that after two years of regularly wearing coloured non-prescription contact lenses that he bought at a gas station, he went blind in his left eye in 2012.
Hamlin told Global News that regularly wearing coloured contacts was something he did because “I thought it would enhance my look.” But little did he know they were actually harming him.
He says he woke up one day and his eye was bothering him, but when he went to see a doctor he was misdiagnosed with pink eye. A few days later, he experienced blindness in his left eye.
“Since 2012 I have been diagnosed with glaucoma, astigmatism and a couple of cataracts,” he said. He’s also undergone 16 surgeries, including multiple cornea transplants, three glaucoma surgeries and cataract removal, among others.
He’s now legally blind in his left eye.
“My message to people who want to wear coloured contacts for Halloween: If you want to wear them, get them from an optometrist or eye doctor! Don’t chance it,” he said. “I tell folks that every year.”
Similarly, 19-year-old Michigan resident Leah Carpenter was left partially blind after wearing zombie contact lenses as part of a Halloween costume in 2015. The day after wearing the lenses, she woke up with a red, swollen eye and was told that the lens had ripped out the top layer of her cornea.
“I wish I never did it, to be honest,” she said to WXYZ Detroit. “My vision is not going to be 100 per cent. I have a long road.”
Dr. Allan Slomovic, a Toronto-based ophthalmologist and professor of ophthalmology at the University of Toronto, recalls seeing a patient years ago who had a “miserable corneal ulcer” from wearing cosmetic lenses.
“The thing about cosmetic lenses is that they’re contacts, they sit on the eye and can result in complications,” he says. “Contact lenses are typically safe, but when you don’t inform people [on how to wear and care for them properly], problems do occur.”
In the worst case scenario, a corneal ulcer can lead to blindness and requires a transplant. If a person doesn’t get care in a reasonable amount of time, they could lose their eye.
“Usually, it’s so painful that most people seek care before it gets to that,” he says. “It’s rare, but it could happen.”
He says there are some basics to keep in mind when wearing contacts, including never running them under tap water or licking them and putting them in your eye, keeping your lens case clean and not sleeping with your contacts in.
“The chances of developing an infection go up ten-fold from the first time you sleep in your contacts,” he says. “I see the complications [of these actions] and they can get worse very quickly.”
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