Denver Optician Carol Schneider wants to make sure people know that they’re putting into their eyes.
Decorative contact lenses sold outside of a doctor’s office have recently come under fire by the Food and Drug Administration.
"That’s the problem we’re having is them being sold outright," Schneider said. "Contact lenses are medical devices. If you want something like that you need to get fitted."
Schneider said people wanting to wear the decorative lenses need to visit their optometrist for an evaluation. The optometrist can determine their prescription and that the lenses properly fit.
The improper fitting of some lenses not marketed at optometrists’ offices is a cause of concern for the Food and Drug Administration.
That’s why with the holidays right around the corner the FDA is warning consumers about the serious risks of buying those lenses from anyone other than a reputable vendor.
The risks include permanent eye injury, potentially leading to blindness for people who use non-corrective, decorative contact lenses not prescribed or fitted by an eye care professional.
Recent reports have surfaced that these contacts are appearing at flea markets, convenience stores and other shops.
The holidays may increase the marketing of these products at locations other than doctor’s offices.
"Usually it’s because they need them for some function, not everyday," Schneider said of most customers who want the lenses.
Schneider sells the Wild Eyes brand marketed by Ciba and Crazy Lens made by Cooper.
The decorative lenses are a novelty, but are safe when prescribed and fitted by an optometrist. Schneider even bought herself a pair of "cat eyes" for a Halloween party over the weekend. Still, she could only leave them in for about 10 minutes before her head started hurting.
Patients can choose from contacts that have zebra colors, eight balls, suns and stars and sports teams.
In fact, a recent survey found that the Denver Broncos decorative lenses were the most popular sports-lenses sold nationwide. The lenses say "Broncos" and have the team logo on them.
Schneider said roughly one in 1,000 patients will purchase the lenses, but it’s the person who decides to try them off the "black market" that worries the optician.
"It’s not safe," she said. "They don’t know how important their eyes are until they’re gone."
Many people can’t wear the lenses for very long. The darker the eye’s natural color, the more pigment that has to be manufactured into the lens. That leads to problems for some.
"When you have dark eyes you have to have an opaque lens," Optometric Assistant Jennifer Epps said. "Typically that diminishes your pupil area to five percent."
Which means your vision is diminished.
The colored lenses are pricey, too. Epps said a pair can run you from $80-100 for a year’s supply. They don’t come in disposables either.
"When they find out how much they are they usually aren’t interested," Epps said.
It was reported that more than 40,000 people nationwide purchased Wild Eyes lenses during the Halloween season of 1998.
The FDA has received reports of corneal ulcers and ocular infections associated with the use of these products without prescription. The infections can lead to ocular scarring and vision impairment. In extreme cases users can go blind and possibly lose their eyes.
"Consumers should understand that decorative contact lenses, like contact lenses intended for correcting vision, present serious risks to eye health if they are distributed without a valid prescription and proper fitting by an qualified eye care professional," FDA Deputy Commissioner Dr. Lester M. Crawford said in a release. "FDA will aggressively use the full range of its statutory authorities to prevent the distribution of these potentially dangerous products directly to consumers."
Customs officials have been ordered to detain all decorative lenses at United States ports of entry. The FDA has also indicated it will seize these lenses that are marketed illegally.
Consumers are asked to discontinue use of lenses that haven’t been properly fitted and prescribed.
Problems or complaints can be reported to 1-800-FDA-1088.