From blood-drenched vampire eyes to glow-in-the-dark lizard lenses, costume contacts can certainly add a spooky, eye-popping touch. Decorative contact lenses can add just the right amount of creepy to your Halloween costume. But wearing costume contact lenses without a prescription can set you up for serious eye infections or permanent vision loss. That's why the American Academy of Ophthalmology wants to remind people to only buy decorative contact lenses from retailers who require a prescription and sell FDA-approved products. 

Every year, ophthalmologists treat patients who suffer painful, blinding complications from wearing contact lenses that have not been properly fitted by an eye care professional. 

Julian Hamlin, a 17-year-old who just wanted to stand out, is blind in one eye after wearing contact lenses without a prescription. Ten surgeries couldn't reverse the damage he suffered. Hamlin switched up his look every day in high school with $20 colored contact lenses he bought at a gas station.

Another case is Laura Butler, 20, she has a permanent scar and decreased vision after wearing her lenses for just 10 hours; Robyn Rouse is a 14-year-old girl who required a corneal transplant after wearing costume lenses few hours. Robyn bought a pair of green contacts at the local corner store, and after having the eye contacts in for a short time, she took them out and went to bed. The next morning she woke up to strange fluid leaking out of her left eye. 

Robyn was admitted to the hospital and remained for over a week. The contacts caused an infection in Robyn's eye, which led to years of treatment from an ophthalmologist, including a corneal transplant one year after the original injury. According to the AAO, even 12 years after the incident, Robyn continues to have blurry vision in her left eye and must use eye drops on a daily basis to help combat dry eye that was a result of her injury.

While it is illegal to sell non-prescription contact lenses, they can still be purchased at beauty supply stores, costume shops, or on the web. Falsely advertised as "one-size-fits-all" or "no prescription necessary," these lenses can cause serious eye damage.

Even if you have perfect vision, you still need to obtain a valid prescription and eye exam from an ophthalmologist – a medical doctor who treats eye conditions and diseases – or optometrist. Contact lenses are a medical device.

  • There are four ways over-the-counter decorative contact lenses can seriously harm your eyes:
  1. Over-the-counter lenses can scratch your eye: If not fitted and sized for the person wearing them, contacts can easily scrape the cornea, the outer layer of the eye. Corneal abrasions can cause redness, light sensitivity, discharge, pain, or a sensation that something is lodged in the eye.
  2. Poorly maintained contacts can cause sores: Costume contact lenses can create an eye sore called a corneal ulcer. Ulcers often appear as a white dot on the iris, the colored part of the eye, and require treatment. After an ulcer heals, many patients are left with a significant scar on their cornea that decreases their vision.
  3. Non-prescription contacts can lead to eye infections: Both corneal abrasions and ulcers create openings in the eye, making them more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses. All of these organisms can cause serious eye infections known as keratitis.
  4. Non-prescription contacts can lead to blindness: Sometimes, scarring from an infection is so bad, a corneal transplant is required to restore vision. The most extreme cases can end in blindness.

Contact lenses, including nonprescription lenses, are not costume jewelry. They are FDA-regulated medical devices that must be prescribed and fitted by an eye care professional. And they must be cared for with the same hygiene rules as regular contact lenses.

"Don't lose your vision to cheap contact lenses," warns Thomas L. Steinemann, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "If you must have contact lenses to complete your Halloween costume, avoid over-the-counter ones at all costs. Protect your vision by getting prescription lenses from an eye health professional."

The Academy encourages the public to watch and share its "No Prescription, No Way" public service announcement that shows the serious damage that these non-prescription costume contact lenses can inflict on the eyes.