Key Points:

The Ministry of Health will investigate tightening regulations around the sale of novelty contact lenses after they destroyed a man's cornea.

The country's first case of blindness as a result of infection from wearing fashion lenses has prompted a call from eye specialists to make it mandatory for care instructions to be given out with each sale of the party accessory. The 24-year-old man had lost sight in one eye after the infection ate away at his cornea. He had borrowed the lenses from a friend and, in ignorance, left them in for three days.

A Ministry spokesman said it would be speaking to the Association of Optometrists today.

"We're concerned about it - people should take care if they're using them," he said.

The Association of Optometrists has previously lobbied the Government to ban unrestricted sales of fashion lenses. Law changes have taken place in the US, Canada and Australia to restrict who can sell them following eye injuries as a result of misuse.

But Martin Blandford, owner of fashion contact lens seller New Eyes, said misuse could occur regardless of place of purchase.

"I'd be happy if they brought in some sort of licensing regime. But I don't think it needs to go as far as just being optometrists [who can sell them]. Obviously they sell them for two or three times as much as we do, and we get a lot of our customers who initially do go to an optometrist and find out that we're a bit cheaper."

He provides instructions with every sale, and his website also provides comprehensive instructions.

"There possibly are some suppliers out there who may not give the proper instructions. I suppose you could call them cowboys."

Corneal specialist Dr Trevor Gray, president of the Cornea and Contact Lens Society, said although the society had no figures as to how widespread fashion lens use was, the man's case was just one of two known serious cases in Auckland resulting from their misuse.

The other involved a young woman who contracted a serious infection from contact lenses purchased from a Hamilton flea market. She has since recovered.

By comparison, one case, usually involving minor infection from prescription contact lens use, comes through every six weeks, he said.

Dr Gray said the call for greater regulation on fashion lenses was to ensure people received appropriate advice on their usage.

"This is not patch protection. This is just to make sure that we're not dealing with blind patients any more."


Lens Loophole

* The Medicines Regulations Act (1984) restricts access to prescription contact lenses, but not fashion lenses.

* As these lenses have no optical power, they are not defined as a medical device and are easily available from flea markets, clothing shops, novelty stores and through the internet.