Fight for Sight supporter raises awareness of need for correct contact lens care after contracting Acanthamoeba keratitis
Lauren Newson (29), a contact lens wearer from the Isle of Man, contracted Acanthamoeba keratitis when she was 24. Unable to pinpoint exactly how it was contracted, she believes it may have been caused by spending time in jacuzzis while wearing her lenses. Though Lauren's vision was extremely compromised following treatment, fortunately she was able to have laser surgery to correct it, and is now working with Fight for Sight to raise awareness of the condition.
Lauren's experience of Acanthamoeba keratitis
“It all started when I was on a night out – I noticed a red ring around my iris while looking at myself in the mirror. Initially I thought it was conjunctivitis, but as my eye became gradually more painful, sensitive to light and my vision blurry, I knew it was something more serious. At one point I could barely keep my eye open, so had to be flown to Liverpool Royal Hospital, where they did a corneal scrape and diagnosed the Acanthamoeba keratitis within minutes. My treatment started straight away – I had to have very toxic drops put in every hour and the nurses were having to wake me up hourly to put them in during the night. I was in hospital for five days and during that time, I lost most of my sight in my right eye. Then it spread to my left eye – it was horrendous, I was so scared.
“Eventually, I was discharged to continue my treatment at home. My condition started to improve slightly and I thought the drops were working. Then suddenly, it got a lot worse very quickly. I was going back and forth from the Isle of Man to Liverpool Royal Hospital every week and was off work for six months.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen with my vision and all I could think about was the unbearable pain – it felt like every single bone in my face was broken. Having to sit in a dark room wearing protective sunglasses for months on end made me utterly miserable and depression really kicked in. Audio books and visits from friends and family became my saviour and my family tried very hard to move work hours around to supervise me 24 hours a day. I was having to be led around at all times and was completely unable to function independently. By this time I was taking Indomethacin for the pain, though this barely scratched the surface.
“It wasn’t until November that I could finally see my own reflection. Finally, I was discharged but my vision was extremely compromised. While my prescription had been -2 in both eyes; it was -7 on discharge.
“Gradually, over the next year after being discharged, my prescription began to improve and in August 2016 I qualified for laser eye surgery to correct my vision. I do not know any other Acanthamoeba keratitis sufferer that has been able to go through with this procedure due to the damage to their cornea.
“I believe that more people should be made aware of this condition by opticians and staff selling to contact lens wearers. My lack of education around the risks of contact lens exposure to water nearly caused me permanent blindness.”
What is Acanthamoeba keratitis
Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) is a sight-threatening infection of the cornea - the clear ‘window’ at the front of the eye - and can be very painful. The infection is caused by a microscopic organism called Acanthamoeba, which is common in nature and is usually found in bodies of water (lakes, oceans and rivers) as well as domestic tap water, swimming pools, hot tubs, soil and air.
Acanthamoeba keratitis currently affects roughly 1.2 to 3 million people each year across the world, and contact lens wearers constitute ≥90% of affected patients in the UK.
Using tap water to clean or store contact lenses, contaminating lenses with tap, pool or hot tub water and having poor contact lens hygiene increases the risk of infection. Examples of poor lens hygiene are not using disinfection solutions properly, reusing the solution in the contact lens case, failing to empty and dry the contact lens case after use and storing lenses in water overnight.
Wearing contact lenses when swimming or taking a shower also increases risk, as does putting in lenses with wet hands from tap water.
Fight for Sight poll on UK contact lens wearers' habits
A poll commissioned by Fight for Sight has highlighted the risky habits of British contact lens wearers, amid a three-fold increase in cases of a largely preventable sight- threatening eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis. Of those Brits who wear contact lenses polled by YouGov on behalf of Fight for Sight, 56% admitted they’d worn their contact lenses for more than the limit of 12 hours a day; over half (54%) admitted to having gone swimming or showering in contact lenses, and 47% of contact lens wearing Brits admitted to having slept in them.
A significant number (15%) had put contact lenses in their mouth to clean or lubricate them, and two percent had even shared contact lenses with others when they had already been used. According to the poll, only 27% of Brits who wear contact lenses know that wearing contact lenses that have been washed in water can be sight-threatening, highlighting a lack of awareness around the risks associated with exposing contact lenses to water. Nearly half (47%) said that information about the dangers of exposure to tap water was not clear on contact lens packaging or accompanying information materials.
Fight for Sight is raising awareness of the need to wash contact lenses in the correct solutions, after research funded by the charity last year showed a rise in cases of this type of eye infection. The charity also is urging manufacturers to make the ‘no water’ message clearer on packaging. The most severely affected patients (a quarter of the total) have less than 25% of vision, face prolonged treatment or become blind following the disease. Overall, 25% of people affected require corneal transplants to treat the disease or restore vision.
Do make sure you have good contact lens hygiene. For example, clean and dry your hands well before touching your lenses. Take your lenses out before sleeping. Follow the advice from your optician and the manufacturer’s instructions for your lenses. Think about using daily disposable lenses instead of ones that need to be cleaned and stored to use again. Don’t wear contact lenses when you wash in the bath or shower, or when you go swimming at a pool or in the sea.
You can read more on Acanthamoeba keratitis here.
 Carnt, N., J. J. Hoffman, S. Verma, S. Hau, C. F. Radford, D. C. Minassian and J. K. G. Dart (2018). "Acanthamoeba keratitis: confirmation of the UK outbreak and a prospective case-control study identifying contributing risk factors." Br J Ophthalmol.
Lim, C. H. L., F. Stapleton and J. S. Mehta (2019). "A review of cosmetic contact lens infections." Eye 33(1): 78-86.