Thursday, October 18, 2012
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State regulators crack down on unlicensed sales of colored contact lenses

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[October 18, 2012]  CHICAGO -- The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation announced Tuesday that a convenience store in central Illinois surrendered 41 boxes and 54 single containers of nonprescription colored contact lenses to the department. The lenses have an approximate retail value of $1,600.

The department's investigators were tipped off by a school nurse who contacted the office because a student sustained an eye injury from wearing contact lenses purchased from a convenience store in town. Colored lenses purchased without proper examinations and fittings put 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," said Susan Gold, acting secretary of the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. "Protecting consumers from unnecessary danger of infection is an important part of our responsibility as regulators."

Only eye care professionals licensed in Illinois are authorized to prescribe contact lenses. There are almost 2,000 licensed optometrists in Illinois, and 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 limit the amount of oxygen reaching the eye, all contact lenses pose some risk to wearers. Sales of contact lenses to consumers without a valid prescription are considered the unlicensed practice of optometry and subject to cease and desist orders and civil fines of up to $10,000.

In addition to scratches from ill-fitting lenses, bacteria build within the eye very rapidly and can cause infections. Some types of bacteria can cause permanent scarring within 20 hours of the outbreak, if left untreated. While the infection may look like pinkeye, an easily treated eye infection, 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.

Because the health risk is serious and most of the customers seeking cosmetic contact lenses are teens and young adults, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is partnering with the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois 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 or by calling the consumer hotline number 1-888-4REGUL8 (1-888-473-4858).

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Common-sense tips for safe use of contact lenses

  • Wear contact lenses only if they are fitted and prescribed by an eye care professional.

  • Do not purchase lenses from flea markets, beauty supply stores or costume shops.

  • Never swim while wearing contact lenses. There is a risk of eye infection when contact lenses come into contact with bacteria found in pool water.

  • Make sure lenses are properly cleaned, disinfected and stored.

  • Wash your hands before handling your contact lenses.

  • Never swap or share your contact lenses with anyone else.

  • Never sleep while wearing contact lenses unless they are extended-wear lenses specifically designed for that purpose.

  • Follow manufacturer's or eye care professional's instructions to replace and discard used lenses.

Minimize risk of infection

  • Replace your contact lens case every three to six months.

  • Use fresh, sterile water every time you clean your lenses.

  • Always use fresh contact solution.

  • Remove your lenses at night, even if they are designed for extended wear. They reduce the amount of oxygen that gets to the cornea, which can stress your eyes and make them more prone to infection.

Symptoms of eye irritation or infection -- seek professional care immediately

  • Discomfort, swelling or pain.

  • Excessive tearing or other discharge.

  • Unusual sensitivity to light.

  • Itching, burning or gritty feeling.

  • Unusual redness.

  • Blurred vision.

[Text from Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation file received from the Illinois Office of Communication and Information]

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