Health Watch -- Contact Lens Safety

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Want to change your eye color? You'd better visit your eye-care professional.

These days, contact lenses aren't just for correcting vision. They've also become fashion accessories, allowing people to change their eye color or even add unusual patterns to their eyes. These lenses may be available without a prescription over the Internet and at specialty shops, flea markets and even gas stations. But doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas warn that even if you're just changing your look and not your vision, you should still get contact lenses from an optometrist.

Dr. Dwight Cavanagh, UT Southwestern's vice-chairman of ophthalmology, says that using contact lenses without a doctor's prescription could harm your eyes and damage your vision. When doctors prescribe contact lenses, they don't just calculate how the lenses will correct vision. They also measure patients' eyes to ensure that lenses will fit properly. When lenses don't fit well, they rub against the cornea, which can damage it and lead to infection, scarring and inflammation.

Currently, contact lenses aren't supposed to be available for sale over the counter while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigates possible risks. But lenses are still available over the Internet from countries without restrictions, and some still make their way to store shelves.

Dr. Cavanagh says you can make your eyes any color you want, but go to an eye-care professional to do so.