Eye Health: Young Ones Go ‘GAGA’ Over Circle Lens Contacts

close up of circle lens contacts in a 3x3 grid

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 lens contacts “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 circle lens contacts 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 – Is the wearer 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.”

Hot Topics in Kid’s Eye Care

Q: My child reads books in the dark. Is that bad?

A: 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.

Q: My child needs an eye exam. Can I take him to an eye clinic with a $99 special or do I need to see a special pediatric eye doctor?

A: Checking vision can be trickier with a child than an adult – it’s not just reading an eye chart, said Craig McKeown, a pediatric ophthalmologist and professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. If a child can’t read yet, then he may be asked to recognize symbols.

There are different types of eye care practitioners, and any can work if they do a comprehensive exam, McKeown says. Optometrists are trained in refracting the eye; ophthalmologists are medical doctors trained to treat eye diseases; and pediatric ophthalmologists spend an extra year learning how kids’ eyes are different than an adult’s.

Q: My child keeps saying the wrong letters during his eye exam. What if he is just confused?

A: The first part of the exam is subjective, when the child is asked to recognize letters or symbols, McKeown said. The second part of the exam is objective, when the practitioner will follow a protocol of steps to check the vision. “A lot of times if you go by what the child says, you will get a prescription that’s too strong,” McKeown said. “You don’t want to under-correct, but you don’t want to over-correct, either.”

Q: 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?

A: “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,” McKeown said. “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.”

Categories: Health