Cosmetic eye surgery – a risky new trend?

Posted: 19/12/2014


Worrying trends in cosmetic eye surgery are seeing some people potentially putting themselves at risk of serious complications by undergoing pioneering procedures such as eye whitening or the insertion of permanent ‘eye jewellery’.

Permanent eye jewellery is particularly growing in popularity in the US and may hit our shores soon. A company called JewelEye makes cosmetic 3.5mm jewellery implants that are heart or half-moon shaped. The insertion procedure involves injecting anaesthetic into the eye and making a small incision to fit the jewellery. The implant is inserted beneath the conjunctiva and on top of the sclera.  

Experts warn of the dangers of undergoing this procedure, as the jewellery is not FDA (US healthcare consumer watchdog) approved. The American Academy of Ophthalmology said there is not ‘sufficient evidence to support the safety or therapeutic value of this procedure’. Ophthalmologist Wayne Bizer expressed concern ‘that it might cause foreign body granuloma or scar tissue. The implant could also allow conjunctiva causing a serious vision threatening infection or possibly erode the sclera, the white part of the eye’.

Yet despite the risks, a greater variety of procedures is now on offer. Eye whitening is one of the more recent trends to hit the cosmetic eye surgery market. It is not yet available in the UK, but is also gaining momentum in the US. Dr J P Dunn, an eye surgeon at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, explained that ‘eye whitening works by surgically stopping blood flow to some of the blood vessels in the eyes. By inhibiting blood vessel growth, the eye will look much whiter’.

The procedure was developed four years ago in Korea and is generally deemed risky. A study of cosmetic eye whitening, published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, found that the overall complication rate was 82.9%, and 55.6% of complications were considered severe, according to entries made in the patients’ medical records. Complications included fibrovascular conjunctival tissue proliferation (43.8%), scleral thinning (4.4%), scleral thinning with calcified plaque (6.2%), IOP elevation (13.1%), diplopia (3.6%) and recurrence of hyperemic conjunctiva (28.1%). 

Alison Johnson, senior associate at Penningtons Manches LLP, who deals with both cosmetic and ophthalmic claims, said: “The procedure is deemed so risky that it has been banned in many countries. However, this is not necessarily deterring people from requesting it, which is quite frightening. It is of course vital that patients are made fully aware of the complications that can arise from such surgery, so they can decide whether the benefits truly outweigh the clear risks involved.”


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