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Contact lenses are small, curved, thin plastic disks designed to cover the cornea, the clear front covering of the eye including the iris and pupil.
Used with a proper degree of care and supervision, corrective contact lenses can be a safe and effective way to address vision conditions such as myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), astigmatism (distorted vision) and presbyopia (aging eyes that may need bifocals).
Non-corrective contact lenses – also called ‘cosmetic’ or ‘decorative’ contact lenses — are intended solely to change the appearance of the eye, for example as part of a costume or to alter a person’s normal eye colour.
However, there is an abundance of evidence highlighting the potential dangers – including blindness — of using non-corrective lenses without professional oversight. The majority of complications arise from improper use and handling.
Classifying non-corrective contact lenses as a medical device
In Canada, legislation (Bill C-313) was introduced in the House of Commons in 2011 to amend the Food & Drug Act to classify cosmetic contact lenses as ‘class II medical devices’, the same as corrective lenses are now classified.
Health Canada’s landmark report, “Human Health Risk Assessment of Cosmetic Contact Lens” concluded that there is no difference between how cosmetic contact lenses and corrective contact lenses are inserted and interact with the eye and should be regulated the same.
Prescribing and dispensing of corrective contact lenses are regulated in all provinces. These regulations exist due to the risk of vision loss that contact lens users potentially face if lenses improperly fit on the eye or if use and care instructions are not followed.
Cosmetic contact lenses have traditionally been sold out of novelty shops, drug stores, kiosks, the internet and similar unregulated sellers, where critical information on how to use and care for the devices is not provided.
Classifying cosmetic contact lenses as medical devices will require the products sold in Canada to be licensed through Health Canada and distributors of the products will require a medical device establishment license.
This legislation is only the start of controlling the distribution of these items. Prescription and dispensing regulations are provincially controlled and once this legislation is passed federally, it aims to provide the impetus for provinces to act to change their regulations to treat cosmetic contact lenses the same as corrective lenses.
Who should not wear contact lenses?
Some of the conditions that may keep you from using contact lenses include:
Frequent eye infections
A work environment that is very dusty or dirty
Inability to handle and care for the lenses properly
Contact lenses are safe and appropriate for vision correction in many people. If you think they might be for you, talk to your ophthalmologist.