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By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter


A reader recently contacted the Dade County Sentinel with the news that the Trenton Quick Mart, a convenience store on Highway 11 South near City Hall, was selling nonprescription colored contact lenses, and asking whether this wasn’t a health hazard to the consumer.

People buy these no-strength lenses not to correct their vision but to change their iris color or to add some other cosmetic enhancement to their eyes. But much has been written recently about the lenses’ possible effects on eye health.

The Sentinel checked and ascertained that the Quick Mart was indeed the home of a colorful display of “Twinkle Fashion Color Soft Contact Lenses.” 

“FDA-approved,” read the Twinkle display. “Morning Till Night: 50 Funky Desigs Available.”

Twinkle offered contact lenses in a number of colors including blues, greens and yellows, and “desigs” included spiderwebs, sunflowers, even soccer balls – funky indeed.

The Twinkle display said the lenses cost $17.99 or two for $29.99. The clerk behind the counter, who declined to give his name – “I don’t want to lose my job” – said the store had carried the lenses since around Halloween, when they in fact had been the most popular with customers. “It’s not something we specialize in selling,” he said.

Patrick Smith, a wholesaler who happened to be present when the Sentinel popped by, said he sees the costume contact lenses everywhere he goes. Smith, he explained, makes his living selling novelties to convenience stores – “They call me the Junk Man” – and said though he doesn’t deal in the contact lenses himself, he’s noticed them being sold throughout the region “for the past couple of years, anyway.”

Well, they shouldn’t be, said Leon Graham, O.D. 

“Any contact lens, I think anywhere in the United States, legally has to be prescribed by a doctor,” said Dr. Graham.

He said he’d been told of other stores also selling the colored lenses but that it wasn’t supposed to be legal.  “It’s what happens sometimes,” he said. “They’re not enforcing the law.” 

Dr. Graham, who has practiced in Trenton for 34 years, shares an office in the shopping center beside CVS Drugs with fellow optometrist Denis McDonald, and he was kind enough to spend a few minutes there on Thursday explaining to the Sentinel why convenience stores should under no circumstances be allowed to sell contact lenses.

“They’re not teaching them how to care for them,” said Dr. Graham. “They’re not teaching them how to clean them, how to put them in, how to take them out, how long they should be worn. All this is part of what we do as optometrists and ophthalmologists and opticians, is educate them on how they should be worn.”

And for the reader who thinks the optometrist is just defending his turf, or is wondering what’s the worst that can happen to those who go for the “DIY” approach to contact lenses, Dr. Graham makes no bones about it: Blindness.

“The number one cause of corneal ulcers is abuse of contacts,” he said. “If you get one of these and if you do not have it treated within 48 hours, it can eat a hole through your eye and blind you.”

The dread pseudomonas bacterial ulcer doesn’t happen very often, said Dr. Graham, but it does happen. “It’s the most devastating, and you rarely ever see these except where people abuse contacts,” he said. “That in two days can cause blindness, left untreated.”

He related the story of a patient who had courted the pseudomonas bacteria by wearing his contact lenses for 30 days straight without taking them out to wash them. The man had ended up not ahead the money it would have cost for lens cleanser but out the $1,000 his weekend in the hospital had cost over and above what insurance paid – but at least his vision had been saved, and that’s not always the case.

In the case of over-the-counter contact lenses, the chance that purchasers will wear the lenses incorrectly is much higher because no one is even telling them how to do it right, said Dr. Graham. 

Besides, he said, there is really no such thing as nonprescription contact lenses, because in optometry prescription is not just strength but curvature, in which eyes vary wildly.  The no-strength variety, called “Plano,” still has a curvature, and that curvature doesn’t fit everybody. 

“All of them have to be prescription contacts in order to get the correct coverage, because if a person’s eye is extremely steep or extremely flat, it won’t work,” said the doctor.

Patients can come into his office for contact lenses not to correct vision but just to make their brown eyes blue, said Dr. Graham. As for the soccer balls, he can order anything he doesn’t have in stock.

“But we still go through the same thing,” he said. “We make the measurements, teach them how to care for them, tell them the potential problems they can have, and do at least one recheck,” he said.

At the follow-up appointment, patients are checked for swelling or any vision problems that might have arisen since the fitting, said Dr. Graham.

In conclusion, in case the optometrist’s message is not clear to you yet – maybe you need your vision checked? – the Sentinel will reiterate for you that Dr. Graham advises strongly against buying contact lenses at a convenience store. 

“You don’t have to get them from me,” he said. “Get them from some other doctor.  Just don’t get them there.”

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