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How those Halloween colored contacts could hurt your eyes

Tom Avril, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

Want the piercing blue eyes of a "Game of Thrones" White Walker on Halloween, or perhaps the milky "blind" eyes of Arya Stark? Beware of colored contact lenses that are sold without a prescription because they can cause serious -- even permanent -- damage to the eyes.

Health officials and physicians say the lenses can lead to a host of ills: infections, abrasions and ulcers. Some varieties can even lead to corneal hypoxia -- when the cornea is starved of oxygen, said Anna P. Murchison, director of the Wills Eye emergency department in Philadelphia.

"We worry about this every year," Murchison said.

And don't get Murchison started on another risky way to change eye color: using a needle to "tattoo" the whites of the eye. Canadian model Catt Gallinger is among the latest to try that ill-advised stunt, and now she is warning others that she suffered pain and blurry vision as a result.

Squeamish yet?

Murchison and her colleagues want all those would-be ghouls and goblins to know there is a safe way to alter eye color: tinted contact lenses sold with a prescription. That means an eye specialist has measured the curvature of the wearer's eyes, ensuring that the contacts fit properly. In addition, such lenses are made of safe materials and are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Still, the nonprescription varieties are easy to find this time of year, both from online retailers and at costume stores -- even though their sale is illegal in at least one respect.

It is against FDA regulations to sell contacts that have not undergone agency review. This applies both to contacts that correct poor vision and to those designed solely to change eye color.

And even if a given type of lens is FDA approved, a retailer is running afoul of Federal Trade Commission rules by selling them without a prescription, said Alysa S. Bernstein, an attorney with the agency's division of advertising practices.

Legality aside, here is why nonprescription contacts can cause vision problems:

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