VALDOSTA -- Bright green or blue eyes. Wolf eyes. Flag eyes. Even NFL logo eyes.

Catering to the vanity of the American public and the ever-increasing desire for products that change how you look, cosmetic contact lenses have become one of the newest fads.

But fads can be dangerous, and in this case, blindingly so.

"I've seen some very nasty eye infections and I've treated a number of patients with problems caused by these lenses," said Steven Wilson, O.D., of the Wilson Eye Center. "One person buys the lenses and then they pass them around to their friends, but what they are also sharing is the bacteria."

Wilson said bacterial infections and corneal ulcers are the most common problems with the lenses and if not treated properly, can lead to much more serious problems, including vision loss.

As a result of problems with the contacts, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently warned consumers not to use the lenses unless they are fitted and prescribed by a professional.

"The FDA regulates contact lenses because they are considered to be a medical device. We sell them only by prescription and the customer needs an eye exam and follow up visits," said Steve Beall, L.D.O., of Beall Optical.

Beall said cosmetic lenses are slightly thicker than regular lenses and it is more difficult for the cornea to withstand them. Without a proper fitting and follow up care, the lenses can cause the eye to become deprived of oxygen or cause swelling, abrasions, and infections.

"They are a prime habitat for bacteria," he said. "Once the bacteria has a foothold, it can lead to blindness."

Both optical shops saw an increased interest in the lenses in the last week due to Halloween, but Beall said when the customers are educated about the cost and the degree of care the lenses require, most have opted not to buy the lenses.

"The eye is living tissue and you're putting plastic on it," said Wilson. "The cornea is avascular--it's like a mini-lung and it takes oxygen from the air to breathe. The contacts must be fitted properly to allow a good oxygen supply."

All the optical shops in Valdosta who said they carry the lenses require an examination or current prescription to dispense the contacts.

"If people want to change their eye color, that's their business. But they have to do it properly to avoid complications," Wilson said.



To contact Business Editor Kay Harris, please call 244-3400, ext. 280.



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