Eye Health

Updated 18 November 2015

'My novelty contact lenses ripped my cornea'

Coloured lenses can cause permanent damage to your eyes after only a few hours of use as Tia Goode realised when her cat-eye contact ripped her cornea. Here's what you need to know before you buy a pair.

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With lenses that can make your brown eyes as blue as the sea or your blue eyes as purple as an amethyst, coloured contacts have become all the rage in the past few years.

These decorative lenses are no strangers to Halloween, making Halloween costumes pop by making your eyes black as night to match your zombie outfit, blood red to go with your vampire costume or even cat shaped to make yourself look even more cat-like.

This past Halloween, a student from South Wales was hospitalised after her novelty contact ripped her cornea, Wales Online reports. 

18-year-old Tia Goode dressed up as a leopard for Halloween and added cat-eye contact lenses to complete her look. When she came home from a night out, she tried to remove her contact lenses but found that they were stuck. 

After spending 45 minutes trying to get them out, Goode eventually pulled the contact out but managed to rip out her cornea, the transparent layer covering her eye, too.

Goode's eye became extremely painful and she decided to go to the hospital. She was then informed that she had caused significant damage to her cornea.

Goode was put on a course of antibiotics and had to consult an optometrist to assess whether or not their would be any long-term damage. She also had to wear an eye patch until her cornea healed.

In an interview with The Tab, Goode warned other students about the risks of wearing decorative lenses:

“I’d recommend not to wear them as they’re super dangerous and I didn’t realise."

tia good ripped cornea

Tia Goode was fitted with an eye patch and given antibiotics after a novelty contact lens damaged her cornea (Image: The Tab)

Where do coloured contact lenses come from?

Coloured contacts can easily be found in flea markets, cosmetic shops and online; many coloured contacts are imported to South Africa from China, India and Pakistan.

However, the growing trend of coloured contacts as fashion accessories in South Africa has caused many stores to risk fines.

In South Africa, the manufacture, prescription and dispense of coloured contacts is regulated by the government. In fact, it is actually illegal for non-registered people or shops to fit or sell contact lenses.

Read: Everything you need to know about contact lenses and your eye health


If you require contact lenses to correct your vision and wish to use coloured contacts, your optometrist must first evaluate your eyesight and the curvature of your cornea. Your optometrist will then personally order contacts for you.

See more: Should I get my lenses from an optometrist or an ophthalmologist?

One common practice that is raising concerns among optometrists in South Africa is the growing number of contact lenses being sold over the counter from unlicensed vendors, who do not go through the proper clinical fitting regime with their consumers.

Though these coloured contacts may seem like an easy way to change your appearance, an unprescribed use of these lenses or an ill fit can result in permanent eye damage.

Another problem arising from the booming coloured contact lens market is the selling of second hand, otherwise known as 'used' contacts.

Conjunctivitis, more commonly known as “pink eye,” is a condition that is easily treated, but feared by many, as it is highly contagious. Pink eye is inflammation of the thin, clear tissue of the white part of the eyelid.

Contact lenses in your country's flag design is all the rage at world sports events

One of the easiest ways to contract pink eye is by sharing contact lenses, which can lead to bacterial pink eye, which can result in serious damage to the eye if left untreated.

Symptoms of bacterial pink eye can include a sticky, yellow or greenish-yellow eye discharge in the corner of the eye. In some cases, the discharge can be severe enough to cause the eyelids to stick together upon opening.

See more: Why different types of contact lenses? 


Coloured contact lenses resembling a soccer ball

Another issue coloured contact may pose is the fit. Contacts are not “one size fits all,” and therefore a proper fitting is necessary.

A clinical observation study done by the University of KwaZulu-Natal evaluated the fit of coloured contacts on 240 individuals.

The study states, “The majority (62.9% of the lenses fitted on the subjects were rejected according to the fit criteria. The African subjects had the highest percentage of rejected fits (82.8%) …

The main reason for lens fits being rejected was they displayed characteristics of a tight fit (96%) with only 4% of the fits being rejected due to being too loose.”

A common observation of this study was that the majority of lenses do not fit optimally, and that African patients had more complications with tight fitting lenses than any other racial group.

Ill fitting lenses can cause some serious issues over time.

 “The risk of eye disease associated with internet purchases of contact lenses is almost five times more than when lenses were bought from an optometrist.

Individuals who purchase over the counter contact lenses frequently complain of painful, red eyes, poor vision or other contact lens related problems,” stated the South African Optometrist Association.

“On investigation by the practitioner, it is often found that lenses are unsuitable for the patient as a result of the material or design being inappropriate, the lens being poorly maintained by the patient or either too tight or loose fitting for the specific corneal profile.”

See more: Can they damage my eyes?

The use of unprescribed coloured contacts can also cause severe bacterial infections.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology claims that keratitis, an infection of the cornea, is the most common infection associated with improper coloured contact use.

Improper use of coloured contacts can result in a corneal infection, which may result in pain or redness in the eye, abnormal tearing, sensitivity to light, abnormal discharge, blurred vision or the sensation of having something stuck in your eye.

If left untreated, a corneal infection can lead to a corneal ulcer, which is an open sore in the outer layer of the cornea. Scratches on the eye’s surface, which can be caused by an ill fit contact lens, can cause corneal infections and ulcers.

Symptoms of a corneal ulcer are similar to that of an infection, but may also include pus coming from the eye, swelling of the eyelids and a white patch on the cornea.

South African singer Yolandi Visser with her trademark black contacts

Infections of and damage to the cornea caused by the improper use of coloured lenses can lead to impaired vision or even blindness. If left untreated, damages can be irreversible.

Scarring can permanently affect vision, sometimes causing blindness. In some cases, the eye may be lost entirely.

In short, contacts should never be shared or purchased after they have been used by another person; it is advisable to stay away from purchasing coloured contacts altogether without first consulting an optometrist. 

Read more: 

What types of contact lenses are available?
Coloured contact lens scare
What are contact lenses made of?

 

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Optometrist

Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg and is currently practising at Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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