Regarding contact lens costs: Don't take chances with your vision

  • Article by: AARON L. NATHENSON
  • Updated: August 6, 2014 - 6:43 PM

If you’ve noted Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s attention to contact lens costs, remember: Safety first.

 

An Aug. 4 article (“Klobuchar looks into contact lens price policies”) describes Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s advocacy of fair prices for consumers purchasing contact lenses. Her position makes much of representing consumer purchasing rights. I am sympathetic to a patient’s desire to buy affordable contact lenses. However, quality and care should not be compromised by overly eager price-control measures. Safety and health should come first in all matters relating to materials that sit on the surface of the eye.

I have been practicing ophthalmology in Minnesota for 40-plus years, during which time I have treated hundreds of eye injuries caused by the misguided purchase and application of contact lenses to the eye. This risk can be mitigated by professional guidance from a trained eye care professional.

Annually, 3 to 5 percent of all contact lens wearers get microbial infections. The online and big-box retailers are interested in low-cost products but offer limited professional eye care and follow-up for customers who purchase cheap or unregulated contact lenses.

The over-the-counter sale of nonprescription, one-size-fits-all cosmetic contact lenses have been shown to cause significant damage and vision loss to thousands of people, with no vision benefit gained. In 2008, I treated a woman who lost vision in both eyes after her over-the-counter, nonprescribed cosmetic contact lens adhered to her eyeball. In 2012, a colleague referred a patient to me who had lost vision in one eye from the use of cosmetic contact lenses.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has issued a warning about the danger of over-the-counter cosmetic lenses, which are unfitted to the unique surface of a person’s eye and sold with no follow-up care until it is too late.

I hope Klobuchar realizes the potential danger in the dispensing of contact lenses with little follow-up to patients who wish to save money but may not understand the risk they incur by the easy and cheap purchase of contact lenses, prescription or cosmetic. It is nice to save money for everyday household items, but contact lenses are not items of convenience. Rather, they are a medical device regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and prescribed by a trained eye care professional.

With the act of placing a device directly onto the eye comes the risk of short or long-term infection, pain, discomfort, and permanent eye damage, a threat that is very grave and not worth saving a few pennies over.

 

Aaron L. Nathenson is an ophthalmologist in Minneapolis.

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