Health: Beware cut-price contact lenses

They may soon be sold by mail order. Very convenient, but will they be safe? By Glenda Cooper

"CONTACT LENSES are safe in sensible hands," says Christopher Kerr, the senior optical director of the Contact Lens Service. "But honestly, I don't know how sensible we all are."

Mr Kerr is one of the optometrists who are opposed to selling contact lenses by mail order. The General Optical Council(GOC) recently successfully prosecuted the company Vision Direct for selling them in this way The company was ordered to pay pounds 50,000.

The case has provoked controversy, with optometrists arguing that selling contact lenses by post could potentially damage people's eyes, and others arguing that opticians are wanting to protect their own mark-up rather than provide cheaper lenses. In several countries, such as the US and Denmark, mail order lenses have been operating for years - with, say supporters, no increase in eye problems.

Steffan Rygaard, of Vision Direct, has said that he intends to keep on selling cut-price lenses, though he may have to sell through an American website, outside the jurisdiction of the GOC.

"The consumer demand is unbelievable," he says. "Every 15 minutes someone is ringing me up with an order. I've turned down pounds 7,000-worth ... since the court case."

Rygaard supplied lenses to customers who already had prescriptions. "I would send them reminders twice a year to say `go for an eye test and send us a copy of your prescription and then we can carry on'."

But consultant ophthalmologists fear that mail order lenses will lead to laxity in the supervision of contact lens wearers, resulting in more infections which, though rare, can have devastating consequences.

About five in every 10,000 wearers of soft lenses, the most popular kind, require treatment each year. This rises to 20 per 10,000 for extended- wear lenses.

"There is a very small number of complications," said Lyndon Jones, an optometrist who has published research papers on disposable lenses. "The problem is, they are generally the sort of complications you are given no warning over until it is too late. If you have regular check- ups, complications can be picked up. The major problems include ... the blood vessels travelling from the white of the eye to the cornea being starved of oxygen. They end up growing into the cornea, interfering with vision."

Infection and oxygen deprivation are the principal problems for contact lens wearers. The soft lenses cover most of the cornea (the transparent surface of the eye) preventing air getting to it. An ill-fitting lens can aggravate the problem of oxygen deprivation.

"In the most extreme cases - which are rare - you could end up with acanthamoeba keratatis, which causes scarring of the cornea and can result in the need for a corneal graft," says Mr Kerr.

But Mr Rygaard questions whether going to an optician provides any more protection than buying his lenses by mail order. "If you are buying lenses for the first time you are told how to use them and you have your eyes tested, but for repeat purchases that's not the case. You pick them up from the receptionist and walk out of the shop. Then if you have any problems you go back ... We don't do anything different from that. The other thing is, the optician gives you a box of lenses. You don't test each and every one of them before you go out of the shop."

Mr Kerr, on the other hand, says: "I sincerely believe that potential problems are greatly increased if there is not clinical supervision.

"We are all a bit careless," he adds. "With medical compliance only 50 per cent of us take a full course of tablets. So with lenses; people may not change them at the correct intervals, or wear them much longer than they should, or forget how to clean them properly - and thus end up with a problem which may be asymptomatic, but ends up causing ocular damage."

Mr Jones agrees, saying that the number of people suffering complications would increase if lenses were sold by post.

Mr Rygaard, on the other hand, believes that eventually the GOC will have to acknowledge that mail order lenses cannot be outlawed.

"You can't stop it happening," he says. "The GOC may have beaten me in court, but they haven't won."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor