CHICAGO –The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is reminding Illinois contact lens purchasers that buying colored contact lenses for a Halloween costume or fashion statement from anyone other than a licensed eye care professional is dangerous. Colored lenses are popular among high school and college students and are often purchased at malls and flea markets without proper examinations and fittings. This puts thousands of Illinois customers at risk of scratches, infections and potential blindness.
“Young people and their parents need to be aware that a prescription and proper fitting by a licensed professional is mandatory, even for colored, cosmetic contact lenses. Good vision and eye health is too important to risk for the sake of eye color,” said Manuel Flores, Acting Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation.
In recent years, IDFPR has ordered beauty supply stores and flea market vendors to immediately stop selling cosmetic, colored contact lenses without a prescription. It has fined them up to $10,000 for selling lenses without the proper health care license. All other sales of contact lenses to consumers are considered the unlicensed practice of optometry.
“Stopping unlicensed practice is always a challenge, but by educating consumers and imposing the maximum allowable fine for every violation, we hope to gain the attention of retailers who are breaking the law but find the profits hard to give up,” said Flores. “We will continue to invest resources into cutting off the supply of cosmetic contact lenses and hope for a reduction in the number of infections as a result.”
Only eye care professionals licensed in Illinois are authorized to prescribe contact lenses. Without a prescription it is against the law to sell lenses. There are almost 2,000 licensed optometrists in Illinois and hundreds of ophthalmologists licensed as physicians. Many have reported seeing patients who have suffered from infections or corneal scratches as a result of contact lens problems. Because contact lenses sit directly on the cornea and could potentially limit the amount of oxygen reaching the eye, all contact lenses pose some risk to wearers. By requiring lenses to be fitted and sold by professionals, that risk is limited and managed.
In addition to scratches from ill fitting lenses, another factor that makes this health threat so pressing is that bacteria build within the eye very rapidly. Some types of bacteria can cause permanent scarring within twenty hours of the outbreak, if left untreated. Additionally, contact lens wearers with irritated eyes have on occasion been misdiagnosed with pinkeye, an easily treated eye infection. However, ill-fitting contact lenses can cause eye ulcers which must be treated with strong antibiotic medicine. If left untreated, ulcers can cause partial or total irreversible blindness.
Illinois residents are encouraged to notify state officials if they see lenses for sale at retail outlets that do not require a prescription from a licensed eye-care professional. Consumers can file complaints at www.idfpr.com or by calling our complaint intake office at 312/814-6910.
Common Sense Tips for Safe Use
- Wear contact lenses only if they are fitted and prescribed by an eye-care professional.
- Do not purchase lenses from flea markets, beauty supply stores or costume shops.
- Never swim while wearing contact lenses. There is a risk of eye infection when contact lenses come into contact with bacteria found in pool water.
- Make sure lenses are properly cleaned, disinfected and stored.
- Wash your hands before handling your contact lenses.
- Never swap or share your contact lenses with anyone else.
- Never sleep while wearing contact lenses unless they are extended wear lenses specifically designed for that purpose.
- Follow manufacturer’s or eye-care professional’s instructions to replace and discard used lenses.
Minimize Risk of Infection
- Replace your contact lens case every 3-6 months.
- Use fresh, sterile water every time you clean your lenses.
- Always use fresh contact solution.
- Remove your lenses at night, even if they are designed for extended wear – they reduce the amount of oxygen that gets to the cornea which can stress your eyes and make them more prone to infection.
Symptoms of Eye Irritation or Infection – Seek Professional Care Immediately
- Discomfort, swelling and/or pain
- Excessive tearing or other discharge
- Unusual sensitivity to light
- Itching, burning or gritty feeling
- Unusual redness
- Blurred vision
Click on the images below to see closer photos of example contacts.