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Looking to accentuate her zombie costume for a high school powder-puff football game, a 17-year-old purchased a pair of costume contact lenses at the Gibraltar Trade Center in Mount Clemens, Michigan; classmates purchased similar lenses from the same store. Sadly, a day of fun turned into a devastating nightmare. What went wrong? The $26 pair of lenses damaged her cornea and left the teen partially blind in one eye. After numerous doctor visits, the she continues to recover although surgery may be necessary. Even then, it remains unclear whether the teen will completely regain her eyesight.

Colored contact lenses are often made overseas in non-FDA approved facilities with tinting materials that may be toxic to the eye. In the past two weeks, officials have seized nearly 5,000 pairs of unapproved, illegal and decorative contact lenses, many of which tested positive for bacterial contamination, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

According to the FDA, colored contact lenses are considered medical devices and cannot be sold without proper fitting and a prescription. Ill-fitted contacts can lead to scratches on the cornea causing damage to the eye including blindness. Additionally, if someone sleeps in the lenses and the abrasion occurs overnight, bacteria can get into the eye. By the time the person wakes up, the damage is already done.

As we head into the weekend, don’t let your “transformation” turn Halloween into a terrifying evening. If you want to “spice up” your costume with decorative lenses, the FDA recommends:

Get an eye exam from a licensed eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist), even if you feel your vision is perfect.

Get a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements, and an expiration date. But don’t expect your eye doctor to prescribe anime, or circle, lenses. These bigger-than-normal lenses that give the wearer a wide-eyed, doll-like look have not been approved by FDA.

Buy the lenses from a seller that requires you to provide a prescription, whether you go in person or shop online.

Follow directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses, and visit your eye doctor for follow-up eye exams.

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

If you use non-prescription contact lenses and feel any pain, seek medical attention immediately. Waiting one day to get treatment could result in long-term effects.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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