This story was first published on December 19, 2006
According to a message that began circulating via email more than a decade ago, a young man who stared at a BBQ fire became blind when the contact lenses he was wearing melted onto his eyes. A later social media version changes the gender of the supposed victim and tacks on some images to illustrate the story. However, the claims in these foolish “warnings” are untrue.
Years ago, I worked in a Sydney metal products factory. At the time, there was a story circulating among workers that a welder in a nearby factory had gone blind after a welding flash melted his contact lenses to his corneas. The rumour turned out to be untrue. In fact, the story is a long running urban legend that has haunted work places around the world since the 1960’s. An American Welding Society Fact Sheet(.pdf) notes:
Since 1967, the American Welding Society has received reports concerning welders who have claimed to have had contact lenses fused to their eyes, either by the heat of the arc or by microwave radiation. Not one of these reports has been substantiated, and safety bulletins issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Safety Council (NSC) have all indicated such incidents could not possibly have occurred.
This BBQ warning message appears to be a mutated version of the older welding urban legend. Like the legend, it has no basis in fact. If an everyday occurrence such as staring at a BBQ fire for just a few seconds was enough to melt contact lenses and cause serious eye injuries, then there would undoubtedly be thousands of well-documented cases of such injuries.
If standing close to normal BBQ coals was enough to melt lenses, then household heaters, stoves, and a variety of other common heat sources would presumably have the same effect. However, I could not locate even one credible report of such an injury. Given that there is at least 125 million contact lens wearers worldwide, it is vastly improbable that such injuries would have somehow escaped the notice of medical authorities and the news media.
Quite obviously, if contact lenses were so apt to cause blindness when exposed to commonly occurring heat sources, then they would have been removed from the market years ago.
There are potential risks associated with contact lens use, but these risks are generally concerned with possible eye infections and corneal ulcers and have nothing to do with lenses fusing to eyeballs due to heat exposure. Using lenses as instructed and following common sense contact lens safety guidelines can minimize such risks.
Because contact lenses may, in some cases, “complicate eye safety”, there is also some controversy over the use of contact lenses in the workplace. Again, however, these potential safety issues are in no way related to eye injuries caused by “melting” lenses.
Sharing nonsense such as this is nothing more than scaremongering and will serve no good purpose.
Examples of the hoax message:
Those who wear contact lenses, remove them when you have to attend a BBQ party or whatsoever that got to do with flames… I heard a horrible true story about contact lenses…. It happened to a 21 year old guy, he wore a pair of contact lenses during a barbecue party. While, he was barbecuing, he stared at the fire charcoals. After a few seconds, he started to scream for help and moved rapidly, jumping up and down. No one in the party knew why… When he arrived at the Hospital, the doctor said he’ll be blind permanently courtesy of the contact lenses that he had worn. Contact lenses are made by plastics, and the heat from the charcoal melted his contact lenses.
So, tell all your friends…..DO NOT WEAR CONTACT LENSES WHERE OVERHEATING AND FLAMES ARE CONCERNED… pass this message to all your friends