Article Courtesy of USA Today – Reporter: Christina Hall on Twitter: @challreporter – Click Here for the Full Article
ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich. — A pair of Halloween-themed cosmetic contact lenses bought to turn a teen into a zombie instead damaged her cornea, partially blinding her right eye, her family said.
Leah Carpenter, 17, a Lakeview High School senior from St. Clair Shores, bought a $26 pair of colored contact lenses at a Mount Clemens, Mich., weekend public market where a couple of other girls prepping for a powder puff football game bought similar lenses.
“It was just for show. That was our theme for the day,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking anything would go wrong.”
But since the decorative lenses scratched her cornea, she’s had to go to the doctor numerous times, miss school and bow out of extracurricular activities.
“It’s unbelievable to watch her suffer and the pain that she was in and there’s no way to help her,” said Leah’s mother, Dawn Carpenter.
A variety of stores from party supply stores to gas stations sell the lenses. But federal officials consider them to be medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
“It was just for show. … I wasn’t thinking anything would go wrong.” Leah Thompson, St. Clair Shores, Mich.
Messages seeking comment were left at Body Jewelry and More, the store where Carpenter bought the lenses, and at the Gibraltar Trade Center offices in Mount Clemens. The Free Press also sent emails seeking comment to WickedEyez, the maker of the lenses. The phone number on the company’s website did not appear to work.
Federal officials say that places advertising decorative lenses as cosmetics or selling them without a prescription are breaking the law. The lenses get into stores various ways, but most are being purchased online from an overseas vendor and shipped through the mail, said Khaalid Walls, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Such contact lenses “represent a serious, serious threat to consumers” because of the potential eye damage, he said.
“(Decorative contact lenses) are out there. Our focus is to educate. We’ll never be able to go to every dollar store, every beauty store,” said Walls, who said his agency handles these types of cases because they are considered intellectual property rights investigations. “You see the dangers. … It’s just not worth it.”
Walls would not comment specifically on Carpenter’s case. He said decorative sales and injuries have been an issue for federal authorities for the past four or five years, and their main push has been in getting the products out of stores.
A poor fit on a cosmetic contact lens can cause serious eye damage including scratches on the cornea, corneal infection, pink eye, decreased vision and blindness, according to information on the FDA’s website. An ophthalmologist or optometrist must measure each eye to properly fit the lenses and evaluate how a person’s eye responds to contact lens wear and provide instructions on how to clean and care for the lenses.
Liz Howell, a patient coordinator at Suburban Eye Care in Livonia, Mich., said her office sells colored contact lenses but not decorative ones. Doctors must determine if a person’s eyes are healthy enough to wear contacts and some people can be allergic to contact lens solutions.
Decorative contact lenses worn for Halloween should come from an eye doctor who can determine the proper fit, not the discount store, the federal Food and Drug Administration says.
The Road Show in Roseville, Mich., said his store carried WickedEyez contacts for a year or two without learning of any problems, but owner Bruce Hoffman said he won’t carry them any longer after hearing about what happened to Carpenter.
“I don’t want any problems,” said Hoffman, whose been in business since 1986.
Hoffman had several policies in place before selling the $49.99 contacts. The buyer of the lenses had to be 18 years old, show proof of ID and sign a paper indicating that contact lenses were regulated as medical devices by the FDA and that the product was returnable if a doctor said the buyer wasn’t a proper candidate to wear them. The store also handed out an instruction sheet with the product.
The Carpenters said that wasn’t the case where Leah bought the lenses.
Leah said she received no instructions.
Her mother said she had to go back to get a receipt for the product. After the purchase, Carpenter said she had her daughter buy contact lens solution and told her to clean the lenses well.
Carpenter said her daughter, then 16, wore the contacts for about four hours at school and mentioned she had a hard time getting them out, particularly the right eye. The teen indicated that her peripheral vision bothered her. The next morning, Carpenter found her daughter’s eye swollen shut.
Carpenter thought it was pink eye and took her daughter to the doctor. Leah ended up going to urgent care, an emergency room, another hospital and finally treatment at Beaumont Eye Institute in Royal Oak, Mich., where she continues to go.
Leah said she is not aware of any of the other girls who bought lenses at the same trade center store having problems.
Initially, all Leah could see were shadows, but as her eye heals, she has regained some of her vision, her mother said, adding that her daughter may require surgery on her eyes. At this point, Carpenter said they don’t know whether Leah will regain all of her vision.
The family has contacted a lawyer, but no litigation has been filed, Carpenter said.