While the internet has made it easier to buy many health products online, Australians are being warned they could be jeopardising their vision if they purchase contact lenses from online retailers that don’t require validated prescriptions – or who specialise in selling just one type of lens.
“Patients accessing these websites are able to swap from their currently prescribed contact lens to an alternative product without undergoing an appropriate review to determine if the lenses fit and provide optimal health performance on the eye,” Luke Arundel, Chief Clinical Officer at Optometry Australia, said in a statement. “This one-size-fits-all approach is concerning because one size and one type of contact lens material does not meet everyone’s eye health requirements.”
Prescription contact lenses are considered medical devices in Australia and their supply is governed by the TGA. Extensive eye examinations with a registered eye health practitioner are required for anyone who needs contact lenses.
A professional such as an optometrist will conduct the relevant tests and will then prescribe lenses best suited to a patient’s individual vision condition. Contact lenses also differ from regular spectacle lens prescriptions because there’s more involved when it comes to finding the right lens for patients.
For example, optometrists will consider the size of the eye and the best material to use to reduce the risk of pain, infection and even vision loss. Lenses that are too tight can result in acute red eye and may damage the eye, while lenses that are too loose can become stuck under the eyelids and increase the risk of infection.
Materials used in contact lenses are also changing and new ones like silicon hydrogels let significantly more oxygen through to the front surface of the eye. This is important as lack of oxygen to the eye can cause blood vessels to grow in the cornea – which can increase the risk of painful red eyes and lead to the development of permanent vision loss issues like corneal ulcers. Other patients can develop hypersensitivity to particular materials and increase their risk of conjunctivitis.
“These are all complications that are typically checked in the aftercare period of the usual prescription process and major reasons why purchasing contact lenses online without requiring to validate a prescription poses a danger to a patient’s eye health,” Arundel explained.
It’s also important to know that contact lens manufacturers often specialise in making lenses for specific eye conditions and it can be hard for customers to navigate the differences between lenses being sold online.
“This is putting a lot of responsibility on consumers to not only read their prescription correctly, but to understand the information that they are required to self-input,” Arundel said.
Contact lens prescriptions are usually valid for a year and regular ocular health assessments are essential to reduce the risk of problems. Eye health professionals also explain the proper way to handle and clean contact lenses – something that isn’t always offered when buying from an online store.
Read more: The dos and don’ts of dry eye
“Contact lenses are not toys. When prescribed correctly and when worn under the supervision of a trained health care practitioner they provide a safe and effective means of correcting vision,” Arundel explained. “However, all contact lens wear carries with it the risk of potentially sight threatening complications and regular reviews and appropriate fitting and aftercare by an optometrist helps to mitigate these risks.”
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