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The blinding truth about colored contact lenses

Updated: Thursday, January 30 2014, 07:02 PM MST
By: Melissa Gundersen
EL PASO, Texas -- Whether it’s for Halloween or a night on the town, wearing colored contact lenses is a popular beauty trend that’s landing a lot of people in the doctor’s office.
 
Every morning for seven years Yasmin Pinon would grab her plastic contact lenses case, pick up her contacts and carefully put them in her eyes.
 
“I felt naked without them,” said Pinon.
 
Pinon works for KFOX14 as an editor and her contacts weren’t the average lenses that helped her see any better. Instead, they just added a splash of color to her eyes.
 
“I have brown eyes and I wanted different colored eyes. So I had green contacts, hazel, blue, and I had green-purple,” said Pinon.
 
While Pinon called it an obsession, doctors called it risky.
 
“It can leave permanent damage and permanent vision loss,” said optometrist Larry Falknor.
 
Falknor said around 400 colored contact-wearing patients have come to him within the past decade with severely damaged eyes. He said the big problem with buying colored contacts without a prescription is they're not fitted to your eye.
 
“If you put a lens that fits too tight on an eye, it can lead to disaster, it really can quickly. In a matter of hours -- two or three hours,” said Falknor.
 
Falknor said in the Borderland, it's worse than most areas.
 
“Hispanics have a tendency to have kind of flat corneas and small-diameter corneas, and almost all lenses fit on them tighter than they fit the average person,” said Falknor.
 
For Pinon issues didn't start right away, so she pushed the limit.
 
“Usually one would tear and then I would try to wear it, but it would make my eye watery and then I would give up,” said Pinon.
 
Four years into wearing the colored contacts, bacteria built up in her eye.
 
“I would have to get like a little towelette and rub my eyelid, my eyelashes, to get any bacteria that was hanging out -- that was there,” said Pinon.
 
Then she would use eye drops, but couldn't open her eyes for eight hours.
 
“The eye drops kind of looked like lotion.  It was white and it was thick,” said Pinon.
 
Doctors said it's because of these dangers that selling contacts without a prescription is illegal.

But that's not stopping some Borderland vendors. At the bronco swap meet KFOX14 crews didn't see any eye doctors, but plenty of contact lenses.  
 
KFOX14 crews asked around and a vendor took us into a back room where she showed us plenty.  The vendor was selling lenses for $15 a box.
 
If you go over the border into Juarez, though, the sales aren't secretive.
 
“In Juarez I would get them from an actual glasses place, and they wouldn't ask for a prescription, just tell them the color you wanted, and then you would pay them cash and then you could go home with them,” said Pinon.
 
Doctors in the Borderland said they've been seeing a huge spike in damaged eyes ever the sale of nonprescription contacts online. People just have to google "colored contacts” and tons of websites pop up. All these sales are illegal if the seller is in the U.S.
 
It's been two years since Pinon put the colored contact lenses in her eyes, and when she tried, her eyes started tearing up immediately. She now wears glasses because she's developed an astigmatism and lost minor eyesight. The glasses are mostly for reading, but she said without them the world is now a blur.
 
“It’s pretty scary and I wouldn't wish that upon anybody. I don't even know how I could do it myself,” said Pinon.
 
Doctors said if someone has used nonprescription contact lenses in the past and feel any sort of pain, they should get checked immediately. They said even waiting one day to get treatment could result in long-term effects. The blinding truth about colored contact lenses


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