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Seeing Red

A few months ago, retailers pulled a Bausch & Lomb contact lens solution when reports emerged that it could cause a dangerous eye infection. Now, the problems associated with the company’s products appear to be more widespread than previously thought. My rub isn’t with no-rub solutions or even B&L, it’s with the lack of transparency, oversight, and foresight in an industry that’s supposed to be helping millions of us see better.

A few months ago, retailers pulled a Bausch & Lomb contact lens solution when reports emerged that it could cause a dangerous eye infection. Now, the problems associated with the company’s products appear to be more widespread than previously thought. My rub isn’t with no-rub solutions or even B&L, it’s with the lack of transparency, oversight, and foresight in an industry that’s supposed to be helping millions of us see better.

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All that B&L controversy came weeks after my own contact lens crisis. I’ve been wearing soft lenses since middle school, and using the same Ciba Vision overnight disinfectant for just as long. This spring, the shelves usually filled with the stuff were empty. Generic hydrogen peroxide knockoffs were out, too, and not just in my local Duane Reade but all around New York City. An online search revealed backorders on all the main pharmacy sites and even my eye doctor said she was out. For weeks I put up with sticky lenses and red eyes at work.

If you don’t read Ciba Vision’s website carefully, you might think the Bausch & Lomb scare caused a run on its products, which isn’t what happened. A quick search through Nexis revealed that Ciba voluntarily shut down a production site in Canada because there was a potential for infection. A Ciba spokesperson said the company didn’t announce the shutdown because they thought they had enough disinfectant out there on shelves and they didn’t want their competition to seize on the problem. The Montreal Gazette predicted the shutdown would cause “a global shortage of contact-lens care products.” And it appears to have done just that. The B&L contamination exacerbated the situation, causing a ripple effect.

Recently, Ciba Vision’s bubbly overnight disinfectant returned to the shelves around the corner and B&L’s ReNu with MoistureLoc disappeared completely. Still, contact lens product safety continues to be studied around the country and there’s talk that some cleaners can actually cause corneal staining. It might just be time to ante up for better glasses.

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