Danger in these lenses


From close up it’s obvious something is wrong with Loudeen Dyers’ left eye. There’s a white scar on the iris and the eye is a little squint.

Loudeen (17) of Retreat, Cape Town, never dreamt contact lenses could cause such damage – and he didn’t even need them; he simply wanted to look cool with the cosmetic coloured lenses.

He bought them without having his eyes tested and wore them on and off for a month. Then his eye began itching and hurting. A doctor prescribed eyedrops but they didn’t help.

Finally a specialist told Loudeen the cosmetic contact lenses had caused an infection that had caused permanent eye damage.

But optometrists aren’t permitted to sell contact lenses without first giving the patient a thorough eye examination. And the optometrist who casually sold Loudeen the contacts is still selling them.

Dr Lourens van Zyl, an ophthalmologist at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, says many people get eye infections from cosmetic contact lenses. In the past year he has treated three teenagers who are now partially blind as a result of incorrectly using them.

‘‘They didn’t know you shouldn’t sleep with them in your eyes or that they must be discarded after a certain period,’’ he says. ‘‘Some teens even exchange contact lenses at parties, which means infections spread.’’

Cape Town optometrist Susanna Coleman advises: ‘‘Cosmetic contacts are not suitable for all eyes. They’re thicker than ordinary lenses and if they don’t fit properly or aren’t worn correctly too little oxygen reaches the eye. This can cause an infection that can develop into an ulcer and lead to blindness.’’

* Report the illegal sale of contact lenses to the Health Professionals Council of SA on 012-338-9301 , the SA Optometric Association on 087-310-7262 or the Ombudsman for Optometry, Lucky Nkosi, on 072-617-1124 .

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