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South Carolina Board of Examiners in Opticianry

Beware of Health Risks using "Cosmetic" Contact Lenses

The South Carolina Board of Examiners in Opticianry and the South Carolina Board of Examiners in Optometry are issuing a warning about possible health risks associated with improper use of colored and patterned non-corrective contact lenses, commonly referred to as "cosmetic" contact lenses.

The Boards have received reports of illegal sales of these lenses, particularly to middle school and high school students in South Carolina. These contact lenses are not intended to improve vision. They are worn to change a person's eye color or alter the appearance of the eye, as in the popular "Bullseye" patterned lenses. Additionally, the Boards have learned that sharing of these lenses is commonplace, and it is considered fun and stylish to share or trade contacts. Teen-agers, parents and other adults should be aware that:

  • All types of contact lenses are medical devices and can only be sold and dispensed by a licensed individual authorized by law to dispense contact lenses.
  • All types of contact lenses must be dispensed under the authority of a prescription from the optometrist or the physician who examined and fitted the contact lenses to the person's eyes. The use of contact lenses, both non-corrective and corrective, involves risk to the health of a person's eyes. These risks occur because contact lens wearers are covering living tissue with a layer of plastic.
  • It is very important that any type of contact lens be worn only under medical supervision. Risks associated with improper use of contact lenses include: bacterial infection, allergic reactions to lens coatings, insufficient oxygen to the cornea, mechanical abrasions due to the contact lens rubbing or pressing too firmly on the cornea, and corneal ulcer. These conditions, if not properly diagnosed, can result in permanent eye damage or blindness.
  • "Cosmetic" contact lenses may pose greater health risks than corrective lenses because they are worn as a statement of fashion or personal expression and not to improve vision. Frequently, wearers of these lenses overuse or misuse them and ignore possible health problems, since they think of the "cosmetic" lenses as one would think of clothing, makeup or accessories.
  • Optometrists across the country are receiving calls from parents and school nurses reporting cases of teens, and some pre-teens, using liquid food coloring as a tint for contact lenses. This practice is unsafe and parents and others adults should discourage it. Food coloring, while safe for consumption, is not necessarily sterile. Using it on contact lenses puts the individual at risk for an eye infection.
  • Sharing or trading contact lenses can result in the loss of an eye. This risk, associated with untreated infection, is small but definite. Contact lenses are bathed in tears which may contain any infectious or contagious agent that the body harbors. Students who share contact lenses are putting themselves at risk for any number of viral and bacterial infections.

Immediate medical attention from an optometrist or physician should be sought if a person's eye becomes red, irritated or develops an unusual amount of mucous discharge after using contact lenses, especially if these symptoms continue for more than a few hours after the lenses are removed.

The South Carolina Board of Examiners in Opticianry and South Carolina Board of Examiners in Optometry investigate complaints concerning contact lenses and work to ensure all contact lens dispensers are in compliance with the law. If you are aware of any person or firm marketing "cosmetic" contact lenses or if you have any questions, please contact the South Carolina Opticianry Board at (803) 896-4681 or the South Carolina Optometry Board at (803) 896-4679.

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110 Centerview Dr.
Columbia, S.C. 29210
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