CHICAGO – The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is reminding Illinois contact lens purchasers that buying colored contact lenses from anyone other than a licensed eye care professional is dangerous. Colored lenses are popular among high school and college students and are often purchased at malls and flea markets without proper examinations and fittings. This puts thousands of Illinois customers at risk of scratches, infections and potential blindness.
“Young people and their parents need to be aware that a prescription and proper fitting by a licensed professional is mandatory, even for colored, cosmetic contact lenses. Good vision and eye health is too important to risk for the sake of eye color,” said Brent E. Adams, Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation.
In recent years, IDFPR has ordered beauty supply stores and flea market vendors to immediately stop selling cosmetic, colored contact lenses without a prescription. It has fined them up to $10,000 for selling lenses without the proper health care license. All other sales of contact lenses to consumers are considered the unlicensed practice of optometry.
“Stopping unlicensed practice is always a challenge, but by educating consumers and imposing the maximum allowable fine for every violation, we hope to gain the attention of retailers who are breaking the law but find the profits hard to give up,” said Donald W. Seasock, Acting Director of the Division of Professional Regulation, IDFPR. “We will continue to invest resources into cutting off the supply of cosmetic contact lenses and hope for a reduction in the number of infections as a result.”
Only eye care professionals licensed in Illinois are authorized to prescribe contact lenses. Without a prescription it is against the law to sell lenses. There are almost 2,000 licensed optometrists in Illinois and hundreds of ophthalmologists licensed as physicians. Many have reported seeing patients who have suffered from infections or corneal scratches as a result of contact lens problems. Because contact lenses sit directly on the cornea and could potentially limit the amount of oxygen reaching the eye, all contact lenses pose some risk to wearers. By requiring lenses to be fitted and sold by professionals, that risk is limited and managed.
In addition to scratches from ill fitting lenses, another factor that makes this health threat so pressing is that bacteria build within the eye very rapidly. Some types of bacteria can cause permanent scarring within twenty hours of the outbreak, if left untreated. Additionally, contact lens wearers with irritated eyes have on occasion been misdiagnosed with pinkeye, an easily treated eye infection. However, ill-fitting contact lenses can cause eye ulcers which must be treated with strong antibiotic medicine. If left untreated, ulcers can cause partial or total irreversible blindness.
“Some students may see these as harmless, part of a costume or a fashion accessory, but that’s clearly not the case,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch. “We’ll be working with Public Health and Professional Regulation to get information to school districts so that they can make sure their students understand the risk of serious infection that these can pose.”
“Anytime you put something in your body, whether prescription medicines, braces or contact lenses, you need to make sure it's under the supervision of a licensed professional. Those professionals will make sure you take the correct dosage of medication, that the braces aren't too tight and that your contact lenses fit properly. Without this supervision, you put your health at risk,” said Dr. Damon T. Arnold, Illinois Department of Public Health Director.
Because the health risk is serious and most of the customers seeking cosmetic contact lenses are teens and young adults, IDFPR is partnering with the Illinois State Board of Education and the Department of Public Health to alert teachers, administrators and health care professionals in every school district and county in the state about the serious health and vision problems facing young people and warning signs to look for in their students and patients.
Illinois residents are encouraged to notify state officials if they see lenses for sale at retail outlets that do not require a prescription from a licensed eye-care professional. Consumers can file complaints at www.idfpr.com or by calling our consumer hotline number at 800.280-4149.