Fight for Sight funding PhD into rare eye infection that can affect contact lens wearers

30 July 21

written by:

Anna Riley

(more articles)

Thanks to our supporters generous donations, Fight for Sight is funding a new PhD into a rare but serious eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK), which can affect contact lens wearers and potentially cause sight loss if untreated.
Caused by a microscopic organism called Acanthamoeba which is found in water including freshwater, swimming pools and domestic water supply, the study hopes to provide a new, and comprehensive understanding of the organism. Currently little is known about the different types of Acanthamoeba responsible for infection among UK patients because the condition is relatively rare. 
Dr Debbie Nolder and Prof Colin Sutherland at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine are leading the study in collaboration with the University of the West of Scotland. They will investigate the multiple different types of the organism to better understand how they react to current treatments, to pave the way for improvements in the diagnosis and care of patients in the UK.
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What is acanthamoeba keratitis?

Acanthamoeba keratitis is an eye infection that affects the clear front surface of the eye (the cornea), causing severe pain, loss of vision and extreme light sensitivity.
The condition is often associated with incorrect contact lens use – for example swimming or showering while wearing contacts or washing lenses in tap water. 

It can be difficult to diagnose AK because it is relatively rare and signs and symptoms overlap with other causes of keratitis which are usually ruled out first. It is also difficult to treat; not only because of the location of the parasite in the eye, but also because the drugs used for treatment are not very effective against the cyst stage. 

The link to contact lenses

In the UK, most people who contract AK wear contact lenses. Around 1 in 30,000 contact lens wearers become infected. 

Poor contact lens hygiene can put wearers at risk of the condition through contact with Acanthamoeba in tap water, swimming pools, hot tubs and sea water. In our 2019 poll of UK contact lens wearers, 54% had gone swimming or showered wearing their lenses.  

Good contact lens hygiene can help keep your eyes healthy and avoid the risk of AK:

• Never use tap water to clean or store your contact lenses.
• Use disinfection solutions properly, following the instructions on the bottle.
• Take care to empty and dry the contact lens case after use.
• Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before touching your lenses.
• Avoid wearing contact lenses when swimming or taking a shower.
• Have regular eye tests and contact lens checks to diagnose any symptoms early.

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Take a look at the AK support group (please note this is not affiliated with Fight for Sight).