Anna's experience of Acanthamoeba keratitis
Anna (28), an actress from West London, is working with Fight for Sight to raise awareness of sight-threatening eye infection, Acanthamoeba keratitis, after a recent poll highlighted the risky habits of British contact lens wearers.
Anna contracted parasitic eye infection Acanthamoeba keratitis in September 2015 while travelling in Asia, where she accidentally showered while wearing her lenses.
The following day, Anna was unable to look at the light and her eye felt very painful, secreting yellow mucus. The symptoms intensified quite quickly and she recalls being on an internal flight in Malaysia in extreme pain, unable to open her eye and feeling feverish to the point of not really remembering the flight.
Seeking medical attention immediately at a private hospital in Malaysia, Anna was told by the doctor that she had Acanthamoeba keratitis - a serious eye infection that mostly affects contact lens wearers and can cause blindness.
She was immediately admitted and given hourly drops as treatment.
"The only way I can describe the pain is like being poked in the eye with needles. I was so photosensitive, I couldn't go outside - I was miserable. My eyesight was already quite bad before this all happened, but the Acanthamoeba keratitis made my vision so blurry due to scarring on my cornea. I honestly thought I'd never be able to resume my career as an actress," Anna said.
Anna continued her treatment at Moorfield's Eye Hospital in London, her life somewhat disrupted.
Eventually, in 2017 - two years later - she was told the Acanthamoeba keratitis had gone.
Due to the damage she suffered to her cornea as a result of both the scarring and treatment, Anna had a partial thickness transplant which was unsuccessful because of the depth of the scarring, meaning the operation had be redone a few days later. She then had a full corneal transplant a month later.
Though Anna no longer has Acanthamoeba keratitis, her vision in the affected eye is still very blurry and she has cataracts that developed as a result of the steroid drops. She is waiting for a procedure to treat these.
Anna will have the stitches from her last corneal transplant taken out in November, which she hopes will make her vision clearer.
Lack of awareness
Anna strongly believes there should be more information on contact lens packaging around the risks of exposing contact lenses to water, suggesting that the water-like imagery we see on contact lens packaging is 'misleading'.
Anna said: “It was an absolutely terrifying time for me. I was in so much pain and I didn’t know what was going to happen with my sight, let alone my career. I am hopeful for the future after my treatment in November but in the meantime, I want to raise awareness of the risks of exposing contact lenses to water and this scary, life-changing condition.”
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. Prevention 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.
You can read more on Acanthamoeba keratitis symptoms and treatment here.