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Optical bodies warn, "Don't lose sight of the risks when buying contact lenses"

14 Jul 2008

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General Optical Council press release, 14 July 2008
 
For immediate release
 
Optical bodies warn, “Don’t lose sight of the risks when buying contact lenses”
 
The General Optical Council and British Contact Lens Association are today urging consumers to follow advice on buying contact lenses safely.
 
The bodies are taking action following reports of cases of contact lens wearers experiencing eye health problems after buying lenses without getting proper eye care and advice.
 
Two new studies from Australia and the US have also suggested increased risks associated with purchasing contact lenses online. The risk of serious infection was found to be nearly five times higher. Consumers who bought contact lenses from sources other than their eye care practitioner were found to be less likely to comply with good eye care practices.
 
Professor Roger Buckley, one of the GOC’s clinical advisers, said: “Any contact lens is in direct contact with the eye. That carries a risk of irritation and infection, especially if instructions are not carefully followed, which could lead to long term problems for the wearer.
 
“It’s incredibly important to have a fitting before wearing contact lenses for the first time, and to have regular check-ups. Contact lens wearers should get professional advice to avoid putting their eyesight at risk.”
 
Sales of contact lenses are regulated to protect consumers from eye health problems. Sellers, including internet retailers, must check customers’ ‘specification’, issued by their contact lens practitioner, before supplying corrective lenses. Zero-powered lenses (that change the colour or appearance of the eye rather than correct eyesight) can only be sold under supervision of a registered optometrist, dispensing optician or medical practitioner.
 
Around 3.4 million people (seven per cent of all adults) in the UK wear contact lenses. Contact lenses offer many benefits to wearers and serious infections are normally rare, affecting only four in 10,000 wearers per year. The GOC and BCLA have issued a joint leaflet on ‘Buying Contact Lenses’ to encourage safe practice among consumers buying contact lenses. The leaflet and further advice are available from the GOC website, www.optical.org or the BCLA website, www.bcla.org.uk.
 
ENDS
 
Case studies
 
  1. A consumer in Oxfordshire contacted the local Trading Standards in January 2008 after buying zero-powered contact lenses from a clothing and accessories shop. She reported having been temporarily blinded after wearing the lenses, and had to visit hospital to have the lenses removed. The patient was left with blurry vision. Interviews available with Richard Webb, Group Manager – Community Safety, Oxfordshire Trading Standards Service.
 
  1. John McLaughlin, a Newquay optometrist, fitted a 22-year-old male patient with extended wear lenses in July 2005. The patient failed to attend for his scheduled six-monthly appointments and bought replacement lenses over the internet. When the patient came in for a routine eye examination for spectacles in June he was found to have multiple corneal infiltrates (signs of previous infections) and limbal injection (conjunctival redness). He reported having suffered from irritation with his lenses but had continued to wear them. He was advised not to wear contact lenses for at least two weeks and to return for a further check-up. However, a few days later he returned with a red, painful eye and was found to have a corneal ulcer. He was referred immediately to the local eye hospital for treatment.   John McLaughlin is available for interview.
 
Notes to editors:
 
  1. Professor Roger Buckley is available for interview. Professor Buckley is considered to be one of this country's leading medical experts on contact lenses. He is one of the GOC’s clinical advisers and a past president of the BCLA. He currently holds the Chair in Ocular Medicine at Anglia Ruskin University and is an Honorary Visiting Specialist at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. Previous roles include consultant ophthalmologist and Director of the Contact Lens and Prosthesis Department at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. Professor Buckley’s other areas of interest are ocular surface disease, including allergy, infection, inflammation and tear deficiency, cross-infection, prion disease and corneal medicine and surgery (including keratoconus).
 
  1. New research from Australia shows a higher risk of developing microbial keratitis (a rare, but serious infection normally affecting only 4 in 10,000 contact lens wearers per year) when lenses are bought online. The risk associated with internet/mail order purchase of lenses was 4.76 times higher than when lenses were bought from an optometrist. (Stapleton et al, The Incidence of Contact Lens–Related Microbial Keratitis in Australia. Ophthalmology 2008 Jun 4. [Epub ahead of print]).
 
  1. A US study published in January found that consumers who bought contact lenses from sources other than their eye care practitioner were less likely to comply with good eye care health practices (Fogel et al, Contact lenses purchased over the internet place individuals potentially at risk for harmful eye care practices. Optometry, Jan 2008; 79 (1): 23-35).
 
  1. The legal requirements for sales of contact lenses are set out in the Opticians Act 1989, section 27. The Opticians Act and the General Optical Council’s statement on sale and supply of optical appliances are available from the GOC website, www.optical.org.
 
  1. To buy contact lenses, patients need a copy of their contact lens ‘specification’. Practitioners must provide a copy of the specification once a contact lens fitting has been completed. Contact lens fitting is not normally part of the routine eye examination, and the contact lens specification is not the same as the spectacle prescription.
 
 
For further information please contact:
Kate Fielding
Head of Communications
General Optical Council
t: 020 7307 3472
e: kfielding@optical.org
 
About the General Optical Council:
The GOC is the regulator for the optical professions in the UK. Its purpose is to protect the public by promoting high standards of education and conduct amongst opticians. The Council currently registers around 22,000 optometrists, dispensing opticians, student opticians and optical businesses.

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