In the spirit of Halloween, I have a slight confession to make: I’m squeamish about eyes. Since I was a child I would shudder involuntarily if so much as a stray finger came my way. So much so that when I had a recent sports-related eye injury, I thought I had ruptured my eye. I’m not embarrassed to say I nearly had kittens when my eye swelled to twice its normal size...
A couple of years writing for an eye-related publication have made me less sensitive (to the point of eating breakfast at a meeting where eye surgery images were shown on a big screen). Thankfully I’m yet to join the millions of people in the UK who require vision correction, as I’m patently not brave enough for contact lenses. But Hallows’ eve is a time when many folk will adorn their orbs to look like cats, witches, demons and myriad other ghouls, using special FX contact lenses. And, despite all of the advice to only buy lenses from an optometrist or trusted online retailer displaying the GOC’s trusted supplier logo, come November, we can be guaranteed that at least one horror story will appear in the press.
Many customers will be lured into buying cheap lenses from dodgy suppliers, be they on, or offline. But cheap lenses could carry a steeper price. They could be made with inferior materials or may have failed to pass safety or quality standards. And for the cheapest of lenses, the designs may be painted on the outer surface, meaning paint could chip or rub off, leaving debris in your eye.
Quality is not the only issue. Some not-so-friendly mini-beasties could be lurking on the lenses too, including bacteria, viruses and even amoeba – tiny single-celled organisms with a penchant for burrowing into your eye and leaving some people permanently blind. Even if your hands are clean, a splash of water from a household tap could be enough to contaminate the lenses. Some of these little microbial nasties are like real life zombie infestations – they spread fast, are hard to kill, and seem to be able to come back from the dead.
The optical sector is doing what it can to clean-up the online retail environment, providing a list of certified providers of contact lenses. But, if in any doubt, speak to your local optometrist. While they may utter a sigh and look at you like a disappointed parent - “What did I tell you, eh?” - they are the eye health experts and can advise you what to do if things go wrong, which, hopefully they won’t.
Ryan O’Hare is assistant editor for Optometry Today. He is a London-based science and health reporter and can be found tweeting at @thepragmaticape.