Wearing cosmetic contact lenses might seem like a nice way to finish off a good Halloween costume, but they can cause serious eye injury, according to an association of ophthalmologists.

Non-prescription contacts have been illegal since 2005 because they are considered medical devices, but are still available in some stores and online to customers seeking to augment their holiday outfits.

But wearing them can result in permanent vision loss, the American Academy of Ophthalmology warns. They may not be manufactured to meet federal health and safety standards, the group says, and can cause cuts and sores in the protective layer of the iris and pupil or bacterial infections. That could necessitate surgery or cause vision loss.

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Dr. Brett Foxman, the chief of the opthalmology division at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point, said he was shocked to go online last week and see costume contact lenses being advertised and sold openly, with no mention of prescriptions.

"But it made me feel better when I looked at the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) site and ... it says specifically that these are medical devices and you need a prescription," he said.

Foxman, who also is in private practice in Northfield, is a retina specialist who adds that he has never treated anyone who reported having their eyes damaged by the dress-up lenses.

"But I have seen contact-lens infections, and they can be blinding," he said. "I'm sure a (costume lens) is not as high-quality a lens as one used for vision, so there's definitely a risk to it. It was very surprising to me to see that they're available."

Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a professor of ophthalmology at MetroHealth Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, was even more blunt.

"What happens to people's eyes after just one evening of wearing non-prescription costume contact lenses is tragic," he said, in a statement the opthalmologists' group released. "It all could have been avoided if these patients just took a little extra time to obtain a prescription and only wore FDA-approved lenses. I understand how tempting it is to dress up your eyes on Halloween without a prescription and using over-the-counter lenses, but people should not let one night of fun ruin their vision for a lifetime."

(Press staff writer Martin DeAngelis contributed to this report.)

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