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Non-prescription contacts illegal, can damage eyes

By Samantha Cook
On November 30, 2011

  • Non-prescription contact lenses have been sold without a prescription in the area. The FDA requires a prescription for lenses because they need to be properly fitted to the eye. Eye damage can result from improper use of contact lenses.

Recently, contact lenses for cosmetic purposes have been sold in the area without a prescription. Not only is the activity illegal, it is a health hazard.

Although the contact lenses may not be counterfeit, it is illegal to sell them without a prescription in the U.S., and consumers who purchase these contact lenses may be causing irreparable damage to their eyes.

It is advised that all consumers who have purchased a pair of contact lenses without a prescription discontinue use immediately and visit an eye care professional as soon as possible.

The FDA states that contact lenses "are not cosmetics or over-the-counter merchandise. Places that advertise them as cosmetics or sell them without a prescription are breaking the law."

The Federal Trade Commission's Contact Lens Rule, which can be found listed under the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act, implements the law that all contact lenses are "restricted medical devices that require a prescription for purchase. Violations of the Contact Lens Rule are punishable by civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation."

The Federal Trade Commission's law is not just in place to ensure fair trade; it exists to ensure the safety of consumer health. The law gives the consumer the right to own a copy of their contact lens prescription and to shop around for their lenses; however, the seller must verify the prescription and keep record of each individual purchase for up to four years.

All contact lenses, even decorative and circle lenses that are available in non-prescription, require a proper prescription and fitting by a licensed eye care professional, even if the wearer has perfect, 20/20 vision.

Nicole Rowley, an ETSU student, said she has been approached by someone trying to sell non-prescription lenses. "The vendor at the booth was saying that these lenses were safe for anyone because they were non-prescription," she said.

"As someone who has worn contact lenses before, I can say that ‘non-prescription' just means that the contact lenses do not offer vision correction. All contacts require a prescription to fit a person's eye."

The FDA continues to state that contact lenses "are not a ‘one size fits all' item. An eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) must measure each eye to properly fit the lenses and evaluate how the eye responds to contact lens wear.

A poor fit can cause serious eye damage, including: scratches on the cornea, corneal infection, conjunctivitis, decreased vision and even blindness."

Dr. J. Scott Gentry O.D., P.C., who prescribes decorative contact lenses to his patients in both non-prescription and prescription strength at his practice, said that "a contact lens is a medical device and not a beauty accessory.

"Anyone that has purchased a pair of contact lenses without a proper prescription and fitting must be willing to prepare for the medical consequences that follow."  

Rowley is not the only person who was approached about purchasing non-prescription contact lenses.

"I was looking at the contact lenses available at the booth when the seller approached me," said Cheryl Lee, customer and experienced contact lens wearer. "She asked me if I would like to try on a pair and I told her that I couldn't.

"I already had my prescribed contacts in at the time and she told me that it was OK to put them in on top of my current contacts."

To layer contacts on top of one another in the eye is a health hazard. The eyes do not receive all the oxygen that is needed from the blood stream; eyes breathe through the cornea. All contact lenses block oxygen permeability to some extent or another because they cover the cornea. To layer contacts in the eye is to decrease the amount of oxygen that is being received and severe damage can occur as a result.

Students should be aware of FDA restrictions on contact lenses and should consult a physician regarding a contact lens prescription.

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