Is This Contact Lens Defective?

By , September 5, 2002

(September 5, 2002)  I’ve worn glasses for nearly 35 of my 42 years.

Like most folks, I’ve never really liked glasses.  But at several times in the past, when I’ve inquired about contact lenses, I’ve been told that something about my eyes was unusual (I assume it was my astigmatism) so I could not wear contact lenses.  Later, I was told that I might be able to wear contact lenses, but I might spend a bunch of money and then discover that I couldn’t wear them.

Finally, two months ago, I decided it was time to try contact lenses.  I visited my eye doctor, telling her I’d never worn contacts but would like to see if they might be appropriate.  She did the basic eye exam and then some additional stuff to measure the curvature of my eye, and ordered a pair of trial lenses.

When the trial lenses came in, the doctor had just returned from vacation so there was a delay for the “fitting” and “instruction” — it turned out that these consisted of one hour of “instruction” from a young woman in the office (she apparently had very little training), plus a quick glance from the doctor while the lenses were in my eyes.

It’s hard to be objective, but I think it’s safe to say that the “instructor” was not very skilled in her job, and I had great difficulty finding the right way to insert and remove contact lenses.  In fact, after the first hour of “instruction,” my eyes were red and I was told to return the next day to try again.  It would probably have taken many more visits, except my “instructor” finally asked for help; it turned out that her instructions were wrong, and after just five minutes of proper instruction from someone else, I was able to insert and remove the lenses without difficulty.

During this process, I noticed that there was a “line” at the edge of the right contact lens, and I pointed this out to the (first) “instructor.”  She rinsed the lens, held it up at a different angle, and said it was okay.

But after noticing discomfort in my right eye while wearing the lens out of the office, I removed the lens at home and inspected it again, and there was that line again.  When I examined it closely, I could see that it was a tear in the lens.  I don’t know if the lens was torn originally, or was damaged due to handling during the “instruction,” but it was certainly torn.  I called the doctor’s office, and my eye doctor said she would re-order new lenses from another manufacturer. I asked why she simply did not reorder the same brand of lens (presumably just replacing the one that was torn), and she said that if I felt discomfort, it made sense to try another brand (which seemed strange, since the discomfort appeared to be caused by the torn lens only).

A day later (in early August), the office called to tell me that one of my new lenses was “back ordered” until August 26, so I waited until August 29 to call and inquire about the status.  I was informed that the lens had been received much earlier, but had not been properly logged in by the “instructor,” who in any event was no longer working for the firm.  I picked up the new lenses on Tuesday, September 3, and took them home.

After I removed the new lenses from their sealed package and cleaned them, I could not determine which was the “inside” and which was the “outside” of the lenses — perhaps due to inadequate “instruction” or perhaps because the new lenses were a different brand than the first pair.  While I scrutinized the lenses, I noticed a line on the surface, and worried that one of the new lenses might be torn. I called the doctor’s office, and several hours later the eye doctor called back and told me that these lenses normally would have small laser-etched markings, used to confirm that the lenses were correctly oriented when I went for a follow-up visit. She was surprised I’d even noticed these markings; another office I called, suggested that I was supposed to look for the lines, and insert the lenses with the lines pointing downward.

But by the time I spoke with my eye doctor, I had seen more.  The edges of the new lenses (like the edges of the original lenses) did not appear to be completely even, and I thought I saw tiny scratches or abrasions on the surface of the contact lenses.  And of course, I still could not tell the inside from the outside of the lenses.  I definitely would never have noticed or become concerned about these, if I hadn’t already become concerned about the reliability of my eye care “team” and my ability to gather even the most basic information.

At this point, I asked how I could determine what a “normal” contact lens should look like, and discovered that there is no answer.  Yes, there are defective lenses, and yes, I might see some defects, but nobody can identify how I should examine or inspect a lens before putting it my eye — and my doctor said that if I couldn’t see an obvious tear, I should just put it in my eye.

My eye doctor initially told me that I could schedule another “instruction” appointment, but said she could not see me until I’d worn the lenses for two weeks.  Later, she offered to meet with me and examine the lenses and make sure I was properly trained — but told me that even then, she could not provide any real guidance on how I should examine new lenses to determine if they were normal and safe.

I told her that since I had completely lost confidence in her office, I would return the lenses and find another practitioner.

I then made dozens of calls, to other opthamologists and optometrists and manufacturers, and confirmed that there are no resources that would help me determine whether a particular contact lens is normal and safe.

Nor could anyone answer the question, could I be injured if I ended up putting a defective or damaged (or normal) lens in my eye?  Some internet research turned up some anecdotal evidence — queries from people who said they had suffered injuries from wearing contact lenses, either due to unseen defects or from wearing them for “too long” (although worn as instructed).

No one will provide written instructions, period. All instruction is oral. In other words, if you get improper instruction, there’s no way to know. (As a lawyer, I view this as “total deniability” — it’s your word against the “expert’s” as to what was said in that room, and in the unlikely event that you ever suffer injury and sue, the “expert” will certainly testify that perfect advice was given.)

At this point, I’m throwing in the towel : I can’t find any eye care professional who will explain to me how I can evaluate whether a new contact lens is “normal” and “safe” and not defective. Many folks can tell me what are “obvious defects” (torn lenses), but nobody will say what other defects might exist or what harm they might cause.  One doctor suggested that most contact lens defects, are impossible for a consumer to perceive visually, although many would result in discomfort while actually wearing the lenses.

When I asked about the risk of injury from wearing contact lenses, I could never get a straight answer from anybody.  Maybe one in a million people get hurt from wearing contact lenses, maybe one in a thousand, maybe one in fifty, nobody seems to know.  (This complete uncertainty is the reason I won’t even consider laser eye surgery.)

I spent $75 for an eye exam (which I did not need, since I’d just had an eye exam 8 months earlier), and $140 more for a “contact lens fitting.  After the replacement contact lenses were delayed, I went out and bought two pairs of glasses (one for distance, one for reading), buying “cheap” pairs ($360 total) because I knew I would rarely wear them — and now I’m stuck with them as my full-time eye glasses for the next year or two, unless I want to spend more money to get the better glasses I would have chosen if I had known that contact lenses weren’t an option.

I spent more than ten hours over two months, trying to get contact lenses.  I spent $215, or about $72 per hour for the three hours I got to wear contact lenses.  It was a very bad investment.

And for all of that, all I have is a bad experience.

If I want to proceed to get contact lenses, I will need to start over, paying another doctor for a complete basic exam and then again for another fitting.  But that’s unlikely, since nobody can assure me that the outcome would be any different if I spend another $200 or $300 with a different eye care professional.

I really liked my contact lenses for the three hours I got to wear that first pair.

I think contact lenses would be great.  But I also want some meaningful reassurance that wearing contact lenses is safe.  Sure, millions of people wear contact lenses, and most of them have no problems (except, strangely enough, many people I speak with [who have worn contact lenses for years], tell me stories about damaged or torn lenses, and some have stories about temporary eye damage apparently caused by contact lenses).  It appears that the contact lens industry simply refuses to disclose any information about how consumers could evaluate its products — each manufacturer told me that I must rely on the advice of my “eye care professional,” and each eye care professional told me that they will not examine each new contact lens.

What I really expected, was that the contact lens manufacturers would provide a brochure (or a web site) with pictures of contact lenses — this is how a normal lens looks, this is what a torn lens looks like, this is what other defects look like.  They won’t do it, nor will the eye doctors, nor anyone else. If they won’t tell me how to determine if their product is safe, I won’t buy or use the product. Period.

Last Updated on Sept. 5, 2002

One Response to “Is This Contact Lens Defective?”

  1. Shelley says:

    Your story sound pretty typical. Most vision Dr.s I have seen provide the same friendly, yet lacking treatment and advice. I wear contacts. I’ve been wearing them for 11 years (since I was 17). I wore glasses before that. My decision to switch was partly cosmetic, but also because of comfort. I hated the glasses getting in my way if I wanted to rest my head on something, hated the redness and pain they left on the bridge of my nose (I have extremely sensitive skin), and I hated not having clear peripheral vision. I wear contacts for about 10 hours a day. I have worn the Biomedics 55 brand the entire time, with the occasional trial pair of something more trendy and “recommended” but they never worked for me. Sometimes I wonder if the trials never worked because they were defective. I seem to get a defective lens about every 10 times I open a new one of my regular brand. When I expressed discomfort with extended wear lenses, I was told that some people’s eyes just don’t react well to them when, really, the discomfort was similar to what I experience in my own tried and true brand when I get a defective one. If the Dr. doesn’t see a visible scratch, they say its my eye and not the lens. I believe I would need at least 5 trial pairs of a lens to accurately assess its appropriateness for me, but a vision Dr. would never agree to my logic.

    This is how I determine the safety of my lenses: I trust my eyes :) Seriously, though, I know that my Biomedics can be the most comfortable lens in the world if not defective therefor, if I experience any irritation that does not simply rinse off, I replace it.

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