A government organization is trying to make youngsters aware of the risks of frivolous use of colored contact lenses, warning that bad hygiene practices could lead to eye infections and severe diseases.
The campaign was launched Monday by the Tokyo-based, government-run Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA), which supervises production and post-market safety of drugs and medical devices.
The agency’s website (www.pmda.go.jp/eyecare) carries hygiene tutorials for contact lens users and those considering purchasing them. It stresses the importance of regular checkups and proper care.
“Such instructions are not limited to colored lenses, but young people who use colored contact lenses as fashion accessories seem to remain particularly unaware of the possible risks,” said Mari Shirotani, the agency’s director of the Medical Device Safety Division of PMDA.
PMDA’s tutorials, which are downloadable from the agency’s website, will also be available in the form of brochures that will be distributed in Tokyo, including trendy Harajuku, the hub of Tokyo youth fashion, starting next week, and other areas around Japan.
One tutorial includes photographs of eyes with infections to the cornea and instructions on how to clean lenses properly. It has also been uploaded on YouTube.
The agency also plans to put up billboards around Tokyo’s Shibuya Station, Shirotani said. The campaign will be run during summer, when junior high and high school students, the main users of colored contact lenses, are on vacation.
The campaign was launched in response to findings last year by the Japan Ophthalmologists Association that revealed widespread use of the accessories. The organization asked 97,233 students from 53 public junior high and 54 high schools nationwide about their use of soft contact lenses.
It found that 12,501 of the teenagers had developed infections or diseases associated with inaccurate or inappropriate contact lens care.
According to the Japan Contact Lens Association, the number of colored contact lens users, 50 percent of whom are teenagers, has increased significantly in recent years. Shipments in 2014 were up 12 percent from a year before in terms of value, reaching ¥33 billion.
Yuji Haishima of the National Institute of Hygienic Sciences, who led another study on eye infections associated with inappropriate use of soft contact lenses, also said poor hygiene was one of the main causes leading to diseases.
The findings, based on data from about 1,700 ophthalmology institutions nationwide, have shown that 57.6 percent of patients who developed infections or diseases had failed to use the lenses properly.
Haishima also warned of the risks associated with the purchase of products at mass retailers or via the Internet where products which do not meet safety standards are available.
Since 2009, colored contact lenses have been recognized as specially controlled medical devices, but noncorrective lenses sold as fashion accessories can be purchased without prescription, according to the health ministry.
Its research team recently detected pigment components, such as iron oxide and titanium oxide, on the surface of colored lenses in 10 of 17 products surveyed. All were sold at stores in Japan in autumn last year.
“Implementing stricter regulations regarding the import and sales of such devices only has limited effects in preventing health troubles,” said a ministry official. “I think that proper care and awareness of risks is the key solution.”
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