Think twice before wearing costume contact lenses for Halloween

Oct 26, 2015 at 7:45 p.m. ET
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Sporting blood spatters, visible bones and other gruesome injuries is half the fun of dressing up for Halloween. When else can you go to the office with visible ligature marks on your neck and not have your sex life be questioned? However, some docs are warning that an element of your costume can cause frightening side effects long after fright night is over.

Cosmetic contact lenses are a great way to take your costume from "I bought this at the store on the way to the party" to "creepy creative genius." Perhaps because our eyes are what make us so human, altering them is the fastest way to seem otherworldly. And with options from cat eye to metallic to solid red, the possibilities are endless. But, as one woman found out when she wore whiteout zombie lenses, the horror show doesn't always end when you take them out.

U.K. resident Sarah Richards bought the novelty lenses for about $15 at a shop near her home. After wearing them to a party, she fell asleep with them still in. (Rule number one for wearing contacts: Never sleep with them in!) When she woke up, her eyes were scratched and infected and she had to miss a week of work while she waited for the pain and light sensitivity to go away.

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Richards is lucky to still have her vision, according to a statement put out by the FDA on the dangers of these types of lenses. They cite a similar case of a woman who purchased a cheap pair of costume lenses and ended up with over $20,000 in medical bills and near blindness in one eye.

The problem, according to the FDA, is that while many of us think of cosmetic lenses as cosmetics, they're not makeup, but medical devices. Moreover, it's illegal to sell them without a doctor's prescription in the United States. According to the statement, contact lenses are not "one size fits all," so you need to be fitted for them by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. They caution that poorly fitting lenses can cause major eye damage, including infection, tears, pinkeye and even blindness.

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But that doesn't mean you can't wear them. What's a vampire these days without red or gold eyes? Rather, the FDA offers three tips to keep your eyeballs safe this season:

1. Purchase cosmetic lenses only through a retailer who requires a prescription (and make sure you have a valid prescription) rather than sketchy online sites or pop-up boutiques.

2. Follow directions for proper care. As medical devices, they must be cleaned, stored and handled properly. Your doctor should give you a quick lesson in contact care.

3. Take them out when called for. Don't swim or shower with your contacts in and definitely don't fall asleep in them. If they hurt, itch or feel uncomfortable in any way, take them out and don't put them back in until the problem has been resolved.

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