Trendy teens have their eye on a contact lens fad that could earn them fashion points, but cost them their vision. The culprit: "circle lens" contacts, which enlarge the appearance of the eyes and create a childlike, doe-eyed look.
Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video, which features the pop star with computer-enlarged, cartoonish eyes, is being credited – or blamed – for a surge in popularity of the lenses.
Circle lenses come in a rainbow of hues and create the illusion of larger eyes by not only covering the iris, like typical contacts, but extending to cover part of the whites.
Made in Asia and available on the Internet without prescription, circle lenses are not FDA approved and could be a health hazard, eye experts say.
On July 6, the American Academy of Ophthalmology issued a statement calling circle lenses "an emerging and potentially dangerous trend among teenagers and young adults," warning that "inflammation and pain can occur from improperly fitted, over-the-counter lenses and lead to more serious problems including corneal abrasions and blinding infections."
Academy spokesman Thomas Steinemann, an ophthalmologist who specializes in cornea and external eye disease at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, said parents need to be aware of the dangers.
"The kids see a cool pair of lenses that matches their hair or make-up," Steinemann said. "They don’t see the seriousness."
There are several problems with circle lenses, he said. The first is that because they are not FDA approved, there are no quality assurances or minimum safety standards.
The second is that they can be bought without prescription. "Lenses are medical devices," Steinemann said. "It doesn’t matter why you’re wearing them." A medical practitioner needs to measure the eye to make sure a lens fits properly, he said.
The third issue is whether the person is a good candidate for contacts – Are they responsible enough to care for and wear them properly?
"It is nothing to play around with," Steinemann said. "But kids just think they’re just cosmetic and don’t have to worry about it."
Poor hygiene – including not cleaning lenses, putting them in your mouth to rewet them or sleeping in them can bring on eye infections, he said. A poorly-fit lens can cause abrasions and inflammation that lead to infection, even vision loss.
"Tight shoes can cause a blister," Steinemann said. "Lenses that are too tight can affect eyesight."
Steinemann said he has seen similar problems caused by other cosmetic lenses, including colored lenses and special effect lenses that are mass-produced and sold without medical supervision.
"I’m not against wearing colored lenses," he said. "They just need to be dispensed properly and cared for properly."
OTHER HOT TOPICS IN KIDS' VISION CAREMy kid is on the computer or plays video games all day. Is it hurting his eyes? Any task that requires near vision – such as computer work or reading - for a prolonged period of time can cause eyestrain, said David Hunter, an ophthalmologist at Children’s Hospital Boston and associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. The solution? Have your child take periodic breaks and look away.
Contrary to parents’ fears, the likelihood of any permanent long-term damage is slim, Hunter said. "There is probably more hurt to the brain caused by spending so much time on these types of activities rather than reading or playing outdoors," he said.
My child reads books in the dark. Is that bad?
This will drive parents crazy, but it’s really a self-correcting process, Hunter said. If a child is uncomfortable reading in the dark, he will move to better light.
And though it likely won’t hurt their vision, parents should follow their gut when doling out guidance. "There is no real evidence that reading in the dark makes you more nearsighted than reading in normal light, but you should follow your instincts, even if it’s not science-based," Hunter says.
Can 3-D vision glasses hurt my child’s eyes?
There is no harm to wearing 3-D glasses in movies, Hunter says. "You might get a headache from watching a two-hour long movie, but there are no long-term detrimental effects," he said.
When is my child enough to wear contacts?
It depends on the child and how fastidious they are about taking care of their stuff, Hunter says. If they clean their room and brush their teeth without prompting, they’ll probably do OK.
"When you wear contacts, they have to be cleaned every day, if not, you’re just putting bacteria and dirt in your eye and keeping it there," he said.
The average readiness ages are 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy, Hunter says, but it depends on the child. Hunter also suggests having the child take on part of the financial responsibility of contacts, "because it’s fairly expensive if they keep losing them."
My child just got glasses six months ago, and can’t see the board at school. Why?
As kids grow, their eyes change and their prescription may change. It’s just part of the growing process, Hunter said. "It’s very common for children who are nearsighted to have periodic changes in vision, maybe even every six months, until their vision begins to stabilize in their mid-teens."
I notice my child squinting, but he’s not even in school yet. Is it OK to wait until he’s older to take him to the eye doctor?
"The first decade of life is a time of visual development, and when a child gets to age 3, his visual acuity will be close to what it will be when he’s an adult," said Craig McKeown, a pediatric ophthalmologist and professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine's Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. "If you see a problem, go to the eye doctor. Many times, the earlier you pick up a condition, the better success you will have."