LAWRENCE — The Kansas State Board of Examiners in Optometry warns consumers: over-the-counter decorative contact lenses are illegal and may cause serious eye infections and possibly permanent vision loss.

Halloween can be a fun holiday, but playing dress up can be serious business. Consumers spend hours making sure costumes are accessorized just right; however, transforming your eyes by changing their color or appearance with non-corrective, decorative contact lenses to look like a cat, werewolf or vampire can be a dangerous choice. The Kansas State Board of Examiners is warning consumers about the risks of wearing decorative contact lenses sold illegally, without a prescription from an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

According to the American Optometric Association’s 2012 American Eye-Q consumer survey, 18 percent of Americans wear these non-corrective, decorative or colored contact lenses. Of those, 28 percent report illegally purchasing the lenses without a prescription and from a source other than an eye doctor, a great concern to optometrists.

“There is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ contact lens,” said KSSBEO President Dr. Ron Hansen, Hutchinson. “Consumers who purchase lenses illegally, without a prescription or without consultation from an eye doctor, put themselves at risk for serious bacterial infections, allergic reactions, or even significant damage to the eye’s ability to function with the potential for irreversible sight loss.”

Hansen expressed a concern that teens and young adults may purchase these lenses on-line or from a friend without realizing the potential dangers and often without their parents even knowing about it. Because of this, the KSSBEO has recently developed a poster for display in schools and other areas frequented by teens and young adults that is designed to educate them about the dangers of wearing contacts without a proper fitting by an optometrist.

A proper medical eye and vision examination ensures that the individual is a viable candidate for contact lens wear, that the lenses are properly fitted and that the patient is able to safely care for their lenses.

Since 2005, federal law requires the Food and Drug Administration to regulate decorative lenses as medical devices, similar to prescription contact lenses.

However, decorative lenses continue to be illegally marketed and distributed directly to consumers through a variety of sources, including flea markets, the Internet, beauty salons and convenience stores. Consumers also report purchasing them at retail outlets, where they are sold as fashion accessories.

“Decorative contact lenses carry the same risks as corrective contact lenses,” said Dr. Hansen. “Because of this, it’s important for consumers to obtain a prescription and familiarize themselves with the information available from an eye doctor to reduce the risk of infection.”

The KSSBEO offers the following recommendations for all contact lens wearers:

— Wear contact lenses only if they are fitted and prescribed by an optometrist.

— Do not purchase contact lenses from gas stations, video stores, or any other vendor not authorized by law to dispense contact lenses.

— Never swim while wearing contact lenses. There is a risk of eye infection when contact lenses come into contact with bacteria in swimming pool water.

— Make sure contact lenses are properly cleaned and disinfected as instructed by your eye-care professional.

— Make sure you wash your hands before handling and cleaning your contact lenses.

— Never swap or share contact lenses with anyone.

— Never sleep while wearing contact lenses unless they are extended-wear lenses specifically designed for that purpose.