Coloured contact lens have been the latest fashion trend among young Malaysians experimenting with different eye colours
Not only has it attracted existing contact lens wearers, offering a change of look, even girls and guys with perfect vision are wearing it purely for decorative purposes.
With the rise in demand from cash-strapped consumers, decorative coloured contact lenses are now being sold online and even in pasar malam for a very low price
However, buying contact lens off the streets without a prescription comes with great dangers
In a report by The Star, medical professionals were quoted advising consumers about the dangers of buying cheap contact lenses. The advent of cheap disposable contact lenses has made consumers lackadaisical with the safety and hygiene when caring for their contact lenses, says the report.
The Association of Malaysian Optometrists (AMO) president Murphy Chan urges users not to be tempted by low prices when buying contact lenses, especially the cosmetic lenses. “Sure, it is fashion but it is in contact with your cornea, and your cornea is unprotected tissue that can be damaged permanently. “Even if it’s a cosmetic item, you need to take the proper precautions as a misstep can lead to a loss of eyesight.thestar.com.my
"Most people believe that decorative lenses do not require the same level of care or consideration as a standard contact lens because they can be purchased over-the-counter or on the Internet," says Thomas Steinemann, MD, professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "This is far from the truth."geteyesmart.org
Firstly, the problem with cheap contact lenses is that the quality is poor to a point where the surface of the lens could be rough. One report likened it to rubbing sandpaper on your delicate cornea.
Dr Kenneth Fong, an eye surgeon from the Eye Centre at Sunday Medical Centre, couldn’t agree more. “If you are paying RM10 to RM15 for your contact lenses, don’t expect them to be of high quality. In fact if you look at one under the microscope, you can see how rough the surface of the material is.” This is why buying online is not advised, says Dr Michael Law, consultant ophthalmologist and eye surgeon at the International Specialist Eye Centre.thestar.com.my
While at the beach in July 2010, Laura Butler bought a pair of blue contact lenses at a souvenir shop. “They felt fine, but they moved around on my eyes and I had to adjust them with my finger,” says Butler. As she was driving home the next day, Butler felt a sharp pain in her left eye. “It was such excruciating pain, I had to quickly pull over on the side of the road.” It took her 20 minutes to remove the contacts, she says, which had stuck to her eyes like suction cups. A trip to the ER and then to an ophthalmologist gave Butler a diagnosis: corneal abrasion. “The doctor said it was as if someone took sandpaper and sanded my cornea,” she says. “He said he wasn’t going to sugar-coat it, that I could lose my eyesight or could lose my eye.”fda.gov
Secondly, poorly-fitted contact lenses can cause serious eye damage. There are no "one size fits all" lenses.
An eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) must measure each eye to properly fit the lenses and evaluate how your eye responds to contact lens wear. A poor fit can cause serious eye damage, including:
- scratches on the cornea (the clear dome of tissue over the iris
- corneal infection (an ulcer on the cornea)
- conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- decreased vision
It is very important to get a prescription from a proper eye professional even if it is without power
Dr Michael Law, consultant ophthalmologist and eye surgeon at the International Specialist Eye Centre believes it will be safer if prescription is made mandatory for all contact lens users regardless of whether they come with power. “When you have a check-up at the optometrists and opticians, they can assess the health of your eyes and ensure that you have the right type of lens for your lifestyle – even if you are buying cosmetic contact lens without power.”thestar.com.my
A bad contact lens might feel perfectly fine on your eyes, but it could be slowly infecting and damaging your eye tissue without notice
“There were patients who came in with chipped contact lenses. They said they continued wearing them because they didn’t feel any pain or had any problems with their vision. When we checked, we found that their eyes were already infected,” says the Health Ministry’s Malaysian Optical Council (MOC) secretary Nor Azizah Ismail, adding that many of those who come for treatment for contact lens complications are experienced users.thestar.com.my
The most common infection related to contact lens use is keratitis, an infection of the cornea or the clear round part covering the eye’s iris and pupil. Keratitis is caused by bacteria, fungus and microbes. In severe cases, it can cause corneal scarring that impairs vision, leading to a corneal transplant and blindness. But with proper handling, storage and cleaning of lenses, the risk of keratitis infection can be reduced.thestar.com.my
Thirdly, cheap contact lenses does not come with important instructions on how to care for your lenses
Combined with the number of young and new users who lack the right information on the dangers and awareness of the “Dos and Don’ts” of contact lens use and care, the risk of devastating eye infection is high in the country.thestar.com.my
“Many use their lenses over the prescribed time, sleep with their contact lenses, swim and shower with their lenses on and keep them in the toilet. Even if you clean your toilet regularly, there is a lot of bacteria in the toilet,” Health Ministry’s Malaysian Optical Council (MOC) secretary Nor Azizah Ismail says, highlighting that a common bacteria causing infection in the eyes of contact lens users is pseudomonas, which is usually found in toilet dirt.thestar.com.my
Many uninformed young people are even sharing their coloured contact lens as they exchange colours and patterns, a move that they do not realise is very risky
Another common bad habit, she says, is sharing contact lens. “Many think it is only a habit among the young who exchange lenses to get a different colour or pattern – but many others are doing it without realising the risks. “There was a patient who shared his contact lenses with his wife because he only used them when he played futsal and, as he said, they are married.
“Then there are mak andam (wedding make-up artist) who use coloured contact lenses as part of the bride’s make-up, but recycle the same contact lenses for her different clients. These are the risky things people do without realising the risks,” she adds.
The potential of going blind from all these risks is real, and it is irreversible
To the Association of Malaysian Optometrists (AMO) president Murphy Chan, the problem is that the problem does not show immediately. “If your eye gets sore immediately, then you might stop but with our cornea, it will take time to show the damage – which is cumulative – but once the cornea’s defence is broken through or weakens, then it quickly goes from bad to worse. “The cornea does not have the ability to regenerate, so the damage is irreversible. Once your eyesight goes, it’s gone. The process cannot be reversed.”thestar.com.my
In fact, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) have declared contact lenses as medical devices and not cosmetics or over-the-counter merchandise. In the US, selling coloured contact lenses without a prescription is illegal.
It is illegal to sell colored contact lenses without a prescription in the United States. All contact lenses are medical devices that require a prescription and proper fitting by an eye-care professional. Retailers that sell contacts without a prescription are breaking the law, and may be fined $11,000 per violation. "Many of the lenses found online or in beauty salons, novelty shops or in pop-up Halloween stores are not FDA-approved and are being sold illegally," Dr. Steinemann said.geteyesmart.org
Warnings and dangers aside, you do not have to stop wearing decorative contact lenses as long as your take these precaution:
2. Get a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements, and an expiration date.
3. Buy the lenses from a seller that requires you to provide a prescription, whether you go in person or shop online.
4. Follow directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses, and visit your eye doctor for follow-up eye exams.
5. See your eye doctor right away if you have signs of possible eye infection: redness, eye pain that doesn’t go away after a short time, decrease in vision fda.gov
It is not all contact lenses that are dangerous, the problem lies in improper use and care. The next time you clean your contact lens, remember that you are not just taking care of two flimsy pieces of plastic, you are taking care of your precious eyes.
“The problem isn’t with the decorative contacts themselves,” adds Lepri. “It’s the way people use them improperly—without a valid prescription, without the involvement of a qualified eye care professional, or without appropriate follow-up care,” says Bernard Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed., an optometrist at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).fda.gov
“We don’t want to send a message that contact lenses are dangerous. Like other things, when you do it responsibly and properly, the risks are low and you’ll be safe.”thestar.com.my