Circle contact lens good for Lady Gaga, bad for your health

Thanks to pop sensation Lady Gaga and the mainstreaming of Japanese anime, contact lenses that make the iris of the eyes appear bigger than normal are all the rage among teens and women in their 20s. Called circled lenses, they are available through foreign websites like and for eye-popping prices of $15 to $40.

But this latest version of the colored contact trend should instead land in the dustbin, Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a contact lens and corneal expert ophthalmologist, told WalletPop in a telephone interview. "People think they can change their eye color in much the same way as they change their hair color and eye makeup. But it's not the same. If you get the wrong dye on the hair or eyes, you can wash it out. Get the wrong lens or a tainted lens, and you have big problems."

At best, users could experience redness, swelling, or a painfully red eye, said Steinemann, who is also a clinical correspondent with the American Academy of Ophthalmology. At worst? An abrasion, an ulcer, or a blinding infection. He treated one such user about eight years ago, when the 14-year-old contracted an infection from colored contacts she bought at a video store. "She had wanted to get her eyes to match her dress," he recalled. "She figured since she didn't wear them for correction, she didn't need to see an eye doctor. And she thought they were cool."

Instead, she was in the hospital for five days with an eye infection. Several months later, once the health of her eye stabilized, he did a corneal transplant. "She now has to have regular eye exams for the rest of her life, and she's more at risk for glaucoma and cataracts," said Steinemann. "That is a huge price to pay." There was also the $10,000 price tag for the whole ordeal.

Contact lenses, whether used to correct vision problems or for fashionable reasons, are considered medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration. Hence, an eye professional must fit them and monitor their use. Contact wearers, meanwhile, must be told how to use and care for them.

"Contact lenses are polymers and, when they rest on the cornea, the cornea is deprived of oxygen," explained Steinemann. "Lenses can alter the health of the eye. If you over wear them or they don't fit right or you're not instructed on how to care for them, it's dangerous what can happen."

Added Steinemann, "Good vision has to last a lifetime. It's like that MasterCard ad -- good vision is priceless."
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