Every October and before every convention I always see at least one of the following posts on social media:

“Does anyone know where I can get cheap contact lenses for my costume?”

This makes me cringe every time, because, other than working for Otafest, for my “day job” I work in the Ophthalmology clinic at the Rockyview Hospital. For those who don’t speak medicine (and trust me, some days, I can barely pronounce the word myself), that means I work with a bunch of specialized eye doctors. We see a big range of patients, from those who just come by for routine eye testing (like visual field tests), to those with complex eye diseases like glaucoma and retinopathy. Just as importantly, we see people who are having eye emergencies. If there’s one thing I have learned working in ophthalmology, it’s that you are given exactly one set of eyes and that’s all you get. Your eyes aren’t like most other parts of your body that can regenerate or be replaced if something serious happens, and it only takes the smallest thing to cause huge problems with your eyes. The absolute worst thing you can do is treat them poorly and that’s my advice for this month: if you are going to wear contact lenses with a cosplay costume, DO IT RIGHT! That means following these super simple but very important steps:

  1. Make sure your eyes are healthy enough to wear contact lenses. This means booking an appointment with your optometrist and asking them about your intent to wear contact lenses. They will do some simple checks for you, such as checking you for dry eye symptoms and possibly recommending eye drops, they will check the curvature of your eye which can determine the size of lenses you may need to order, and they can give you your contact lens prescription (if you are ordering corrective lenses) because it isn’t the same as a glasses prescription!
  2. Have eye drops on hand. Even if you aren’t diagnosed specifically with dry eye, we live in Calgary, a notoriously dry city. Wearing contact lenses disrupts your natural tear film which will almost always cause dry eyes during and after wearing contact lenses. Make sure your eye drops are branded as “artificial tears” and use preservative free drops where possible. Again, ask your optometrist for suggestions, they often have samples of various brands for you to try as well!
  3. Know how to safely handle, insert, remove, and store contact lenses. Many optometrist offices offer appointments designed to teach you all about wearing contact lenses. Always make sure you wash your hands before touching your eyes or anything going into your eyes, make sure your lenses are sterile when you get them and handle them with care, and make sure you know what kind of lenses you are getting and how to store or dispose of them.
  4. Make sure you are purchasing good quality lenses. As of July 2016, contact lenses of any kind (including costume lenses) can only be sold by companies who have been licensed by Health Canada. Most places online that offer “cheap lenses” aren’t licensed and keep their lenses “cheap” by cutting corners, like using materials and packaging that may be hazardous for your eyes or sometimes selling lenses that aren’t sized or shaped properly. Like I mentioned above, you only get one set of eyes, you shouldn’t sacrifice their safety and your health to save some money. Ask your optometrist where they recommend purchasing lenses from , if they don’t sell them right there (which most do) or check with the company you plan on purchasing from what licenses they possess that allows them to sell contact lenses (especially if shopping from overseas). Also remember to pay attention to contact lenses expiry dates, because, unfortunately, they do expire! Keeping them around longer than their lifespan can also be very dangerous.
  5. Know what to do if something does go wrong. Even if you follow all the right steps and do everything right, your eyes are super sensitive to changes and may still get irritated from wearing contact lenses. If you suspect anything is wrong, don’t delay. Make an appointment with your optometrist right away, see your family doctor, or go to your nearest emergency department. If you can’t do any of these right away, try calling 811 (in Alberta) for free health advice from a registered nurse. It’s better to not wait around and see if it gets better on its own, with eyes, chances are if it gets worse, you could be in bigger trouble than if you catch a problem when it’s first developing. Things like very dry, gritty eyes, redness of the sclera (white part of the eye), blurred vision, pain of any kind, or things like flashing lights or floaters in your vision are all things that should be looked at right away.

A good pair of contact lenses can give a cosplay costume just the right finishing touch, but as a cosplayer and former judge myself, you definitely won’t lose points for not having the exact same eye colour as the character, and preserving your vision is 1000% more important! As much as I love you all, I don’t want to see you when I’m at work! ;)

Happy Cosplaying and Happy Halloween!