Can the Heat from a BBQ Melt Contact Lenses?

Do Not Wear Contact Lenses When You BBQ
Netlore Archive: Anecdotal stories claim the heat from a backyard barbecue can melt plastic contact lenses and fuse them to the eye, causing severe injury and blindness..

Description: Viral text / Forwarded email

Circulating since: 2002
Status: False (details below)

2013 example:
As shared on Facebook, July 28, 2013:


A 21 year old girl had worn a pair of contact lenses during a barbecue party.(An event or meal at which food is cooked outdoors over an open grill or fire) While barbecuing she stared at the fire charcoals continuously for 2-3 minutes.

After a few minutes, She started to scream for help and moved rapidly, jumping up and down. No one in the party knew why she was doing this? Then she admitted into the Hospital, the doctor said she'll be blind permanently because of the contact lenses that she had worn.

Contact lenses are made by plastics, and the heat from the charcoal melted her contact lenses.

or while COOKING...!

Friends if u feel the information is important, Please SHARE this message to all your near & dear ones who use contact lens .. !!

2002 example:
Forwarded email contributed by Arthur L., Oct. 30, 2002:

Contact Lenses

Pls pass this to all your friends to those who wear contact lenses, pls remove them when you have or 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 21year old guy at Malacca, 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, DO NOT WEAR CONTACT LENSES WHERE OVERHEAT AND FLAMES ARE CONCERNED...

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Please note that with the exception of a few minor revisions over time, the wording of this perennially circulating text hasn't changed since it originally appeared on the Internet in 2002. No names are divulged, nor, apart from the claim in the very earliest variant of the text that it took place in Malacca (a city in Malaysia), are we told where the barbecue incident supposedly happened. There's no good reason to suppose it did happen.

The general notion that plastic contact lenses can melt under extreme heat and become "fused" to one's eyeballs is even older, dating from the late 1960s when industrial safety warnings circulated in the wake of anecdotal reports claiming that welders had suffered severe cornea damage and blindness when their contacts were melted by the heat and/or radiation of electric arc flashes. Though baseless, those warnings continued to circulate well into the 1980s (see J.H. Brunvand, The Choking Doberman and Other "New" Urban Legends, W.W. Norton, 1984).

As noted in an American Welding Society fact sheet published in 2000, the arc flash rumor has been repeatedly debunked by medical and safety experts:

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.

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American Chemical Society

This echoes the conclusion reached in a 1995 publication of the American Chemical Society which stated that "the basic laws of physics indicate that such a fusion could not have happened. Heat from a welding arc or electrical spark is not intense enough to dry up the eye's fluid, nor could a contact lens concentrate rays to intensify the heat."

The same reasoning applies to the claim that the heat from a backyard barbecue could melt someone's contact lenses. "It's nonsense," writes plainspoken optometrist Dr. Simon Kay. "If it was hot enough to melt his contact lenses his face would be on fire!"

A 2012 article from Mulamoottil Eye Hospital & Research Center in Kerala, India summed up the entire case as follows:

  • Contact Lenses are sterilized by autoclaving up to 121 degree C
  • In most clinics, a dirty contact lens is cleaned and re-sterilized by placing in boiling water
  • A layer of tear fluid covers the contact lens when worn on our eyes
  • If BBQ heat can melt contact lens, shouldn't our tears boil first, as the boiling point of water is 100 degree C?
  • At heat levels that can melt contact lenses, the eye will be cooked and our skin will be cooked much before.
  • Welders use contact lenses. BBQ heat or any kitchen heat is not greater than during welding.
So, this story about a contact lens melting in BBQ heat is just that: A Story!

More health & safety scares:
• DHMO Safety Warning
• Bottled Water Cancer Warning
• Toxic Benzene in Cars?
• Baby Carrots & Chlorine

Sources and further reading:

Can Contact Lenses Melt to a Person's Eyes from Looking in a Fire? 
American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2013

Dangers of BBQ Whilst Wearing Contact Lenses
Specsavers Opticians UK, 27 March 2012

Keep It Safe: Contact Lens Wear
American Welding Society, July/August 2000

The Choking Doberman and Other 'New' Urban Legends
By Jan Harold Brunvand, W.W. Norton, 1984 (pp. 157-159)

Last updated 07/04/15