HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - This Halloween, federal law enforcement authorities are issuing a consumer warning against dangerous counterfeit contact lenses and unapproved decorative contact lenses illegally sold at retail outlets and online that can cause eye infections, conjunctivitis and impaired vision.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have combined efforts to make several hundred seizures totaling around 100,000 pairs of counterfeit, illegal and unapproved contact lenses.
The enforcement actions, coordinated from the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), were conducted under the FDA-led initiative dubbed Operation Double Vision, an ongoing effort to target the illicit importation and distribution of counterfeit and unapproved contact lenses that present a significant health and safety hazard to the American public.
Dr. Dylan Vaught, with Vaught Eye Associates in Conway, said contact lenses are medical devices regulated under FDA law and buying them without a prescription can be a big mistake.
"There are just a lot of complications that can happen, like a general pink eye or conjunctivitis, or a more acute contact lens wearer red eye," Vaught said. "There's also fungal infections and other issues that can happen."
According to ICE, several investigations into the trafficking of counterfeit and unapproved contact lenses have included testing, which has revealed high levels of bacteria that could cause significant health problems.
The presence of bacteria and other toxins are the result of poor sanitary conditions during packaging and improper storage during the shipping process.
Additionally, the coloring on decorative contact lenses may be made of lead-based materials that leach directly into the eye. Therefore, consumers searching for any type of contact lenses should visit an eye doctor, obtain a prescription and purchase them from a licensed provider.
"When there is no oversight of what's going in the lens or the solution that is holding the lens when it comes to you, there's the potential for it to be very toxic on some people's corneas," said Vaught.
He added the decorative lenses can also affect vision while wearing them.
"A lot of them are very opaque covering the iris, so you don't see the natural eye color," Vaught said. "It's like when you are walking across the street with a mask on that covers all of this (pointing to face) and you've got your tunnel vision going on. It reduces your peripheral vision of the side, and things like crossing the street can be more difficult."
Vaught recommends those that are searching for any type of contact lenses should visit an eye doctor, get a prescription and buy them from a licensed provider.
WMBF News checked with two Halloween stores in Myrtle Beach. Spirit Halloween said they did not sell the decorative contact lenses and Imaginations, said they were sold out.