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Health Team

Watch where you buy costume, colored contacts

Posted May 4, 2010 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated May 4, 2010 6:24 p.m. EDT

— Duke optometrist Dr. Jill Bryant says purchasers of colored or costume contact lenses should beware of outlets like gas stations, flea markets, beauty supply stores and the Internet selling those lenses illegally.

A 16-year-old Durham boy, who asked not to be identified, had normal 20/20 vision when he started wearing colored contact lenses.

He bought a pair of green lenses from a beauty supply store last year to cover his brown eyes. 

“I wore them going to school and they started to irritate me so I was taking them off during class,” he said.

Bryant said when the teen sought treatment from her it was for hand-motion vision “He couldn’t see anything out of his eye except someone waving their hand right in front of (his) face,” she said.

The teen said he didn't know was that buying contacts of any kind without a prescription is illegal.

To test how easy it is to purchase these lenses, Bryant bought a pair of spiral design contacts at a Durham beauty supply store for $30.

“It was just a matter of walking up and asking for the color that you wanted and paying for it and walking out the door. No instructions whatsoever,” she said.

The contacts are not one-size-fits-all. “Everyone has a different corneal shape and size and the lenses have to be fitted,” Bryant said.

Some people's corneas aren't healthy enough to sustain contact wear.

The teen’s eyes were damaged. He required extensive antibiotics to correct his vision to 20/70 and will still need a cornea transplant.

The teen said he learned his lesson.

“They are pretty dangerous. You can lose your eyesight with them,” he said.

Contact lenses are classified as medical devices and are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Enforcement begins when an illegal seller of these lenses is properly reported.

The lenses have been growing in popularity among teens. Parents who find their teens with the lenses should find out where they were purchased and report the information to the FDA or the N.C. Board of Optometry