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Circle contact lens, or big eye contact lens as it is known for its effect, has been widely used in Vietnam as a cosmetic device, but doctors say it is medical equipment that should be bought and used as prescribed.
The lens is not any larger than a regular contact lens at around
15 mm in diameter, but it is tinted not only in areas that cover the iris of the eye, but also in the extra-wide outer rim of the lens, thus creating an illusion of a large eye.
Circle lens have been around since 2004 and are popular in many Asian countries like South Korea, Japan and China.
Many circle lenses are manufactured in South Korea under the approval and guidelines of the Korean Food and Drug Administration.
The trend has moved to Vietnam, where many Korean stars command a large fan following among the youth.
However, several young girls have paid a heavy price for using these lenses in order to "improve" their looks.
A model in Ho Chi Minh City, identified only as N., had to undergo eye surgery recently after three years of wearing the circle lenses.
Doctors at the Cao Thang Eye Hospital said they were astonished at how little the 30-year-old knew of the lens' effects and how she'd managed to put up with it for so long.
N. said she had very good eyesight, but at the time of going to the hospital, she thought she would go blind.
She said she did not consider her eyes beautiful, so she was planning to undergo some plastic surgery in 2010 when a friend running an eyewear store in the city gifted her a pair of circle contact lenses.
"My eyes looked significantly bigger, and as the lenses came in chestnut color, they made them look warm and appealing as well," she said.
Just three months after she started wearing the lenses, her eyes felt itchy, painful and dry. She also suffered a burning sensation, but she tried to tolerate these discomforts for the sake of having "beautiful photos."
She only went to the hospital when her eyes started to ooze a yellow liquid, and her vision turned blurry and distorted.
Preliminary examination found her visual acuity had dropped to just half the normal.
Doctors found that her maculas, the yellow spot near the retina that provide the greatest visual acuity and color perception, were damaged.
They decided N. would have to undergo surgery after other treatments failed to yield results.
Q., a 22-year-old bank teller in the city, did not have to undergo surgery, but she become short-sighted a month or so after she began using the circle lenses.
She wanted to "fix" her "small" eyes and was happy that for just VND300,000 for a pair of contact lenses, her eyes looked larger, sparkled and had an attractive deep blue color.
When she came to the Ho Chi Minh City Ophthalmology Hospital with swollen, painful eyes, she was diagnosed with conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane under the eyelids) due to fungi, and weakened visual acuity.
Doctor Trang Thanh Nghiep of the hospital said a number of local youth are taking a risk with their health with the circle lenses.
"Medically speaking, beautiful eyes are healthy ones. And in terms of love, beautiful eyes are those that show emotions.
"If your eyes have those elements, you need no intervention," Nghiep said.
The doctor said eyes are a vulnerable organ and optical glasses, including circle contact lenses, should only be used by those in need.
Using the lenses only for cosmetic purposes, or using them beyond their expiry date and without regular hygiene is not advisable, he said, adding that most of the circle lenses used in Vietnam have dubious origins.
"There's no one to guarantee their quality or be responsible for the damage the users suffer," Nghiep said.
He said people who use the lenses for other than purposes prescribed by doctors are likely to lose more than gain anything.
Circle contact lenses are advertised on many websites that provide phone numbers for home delivery.
A seller, who did not want to be named, said her company has been importing the lenses since 2010, advertising them online and distributing them all around Ho Chi Minh City.
Not revealing the source of the lenses, she said she sells around a hundred pairs a day, mostly to actors, models, singers and students.
"A student once bought four pairs of different colors to go with her clothes."
Doctor Do Quang Ngoc with the National Ophthalmology Hospital in Hanoi said circle contact lenses can expose the eyes to dangerous chemicals used for the coloring.
Ngoc said any kind of contact lenses should only be used when necessary, instead of for a long straight time.
People should cover their eyes with normal glasses for extra protection when going out so as to shield the contact lenses from dirt and other pollutants, he said.
Contact lenses are classified as a medical device in the US and legal sale requires a valid prescription.
But regulations do not protect a person as much as their own hygiene.
The Daily Mail in March ran the story of an 18-year-old girl from Florida whose left eye almost went blind after a parasite grew on her contact lens and began eating through her cornea, the outer layer of the eyeball.
Ashley Hyde was found to suffer from an infection of acanthamoeba, a tiny single-celled parasite found in tap water, dust, in the sea, in showers and swimming pools. The parasite feeds on bacteria found on dirty contact lenses.
The microscopic parasite also breeds as it eats through the eye, causing symptoms including itchy and watery eyes, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, swelling of the upper eyelid and a lot of pain. It can also spread through cuts, or skin wounds or by being inhaled into the lungs.
Doctors had to drill into her eye and take scrapings from her eyeball to find out the cause of the problem, the report said, adding that she had to undergo treatment for several months.
Jennie Hurst, a 29-year-old British woman, was less lucky.
She is now blind in one eye after being infected by the parasite when swimming in a hotel pool with her contact lenses, according to another Daily Mail report last August.
She had been wearing contact lenses for five years until that day, and was proud of how regularly she had replaced and cleaned the lenses.
Just a few days after her swim in the hotel pool, she began to feel its negative effects, she said.
The Daily Mail also cited doctors who advised that people should change their contact lenses every day to protect themselves from problems like infections, complications and ulcers that are usually seen in contact lens users.
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