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Preventing Acanthamoeba Keratitis - A Serious Eye Infection in Contact Lens Wearers


Though contact lenses are safely used by millions of people everyday, they do carry a risk of having eye infections. Factors that may add to infection include: the use of extended wear contact lens, decreased tear replacement from the lens, poor hygiene and environmental factors.

What is Acanthamoeba Keratitis?

The most common infection associated to contact lens use is keratitis (an infection of the cornea). It can have multiple causes, such as: bacteria, fungus, herpes and microbes. These certain type of keratitis can be treated easily. However, Acanthamoeba keratitis can be more difficult to treat, since it can spread to other parts of the body.

Acanthamoeba keratitis eye infection is a very rare but serious eye infection which contact lens wearers are vulnerable to. Acanthamoeba are naturally occurring amoeba (tiny, microscopic organisms) normally found in water sources: well water, tap water, hot tubs, soil and sewage systems. If these organisms get into the eye and cause infection, the result is Acanthamoeba keratitis. Studies have shown that 90% of contact lens wearers experienced this type of infection. They often start because of poor hygiene and improper contact lens handling.

Causes of Acanthamoeba Keratitis

Many factors and activities that can amplify the risk of getting Acanthamoeba keratitis includes: the use of polluted tap or well water, usage of homemade solutions for cleaning and storing contact lens and wearing contact lens when swimming, showering or when in a hot tub. Having dirty contact lenses can also result to acquiring Acanthamoeba keratitis. In addition, scientists also speculated that the disinfectants in water supply (for the prevention of cancer-causing products) may have boosted microbial risks resulting to an increase of finding Acanthamoeba keratitis in water supplies. Other studies have also shown that the "no-rub" lens care methods may also have contributed to having this eye infection.

How to know if you have Acanthamoeba keratitis?

Symptoms include:

  • Eye redness
  • Eye pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Hazy vision
  • Strange body sensation (a feeling that something is in your eye/s)
  • A white ring covering the iris (colored part of the eye) experienced during advanced stages of the disease

Diagnosis and Treatment

With these symptoms, one should always consult with your eye doctor. But keep in mind that Acanthamoeba keratitis is very difficult to diagnose at first. Often times, it is not even suspected until other eye infections have surfaced because its symptoms are very much similar to pink eye symptoms and other eye infections as well.

This situation can be confirmed by doing corneal scraping or confocal microscopy. If fixed early, the infection can be treated with proper medication or epithelium debridement (harmful tissue removal). If not treated earlier, this may result to permanent loss of vision which can only be treated by undergoing corneal transplant (a serious surgical procedure).

How can one reduce the risk of getting Acanthamoeba keratitis?

The good news is that Acanthamoeba keratitis is also very preventable. There are several ways to greatly reduce the chances of having Acanthamoeba keratitis as well as other types of contact lens related eye infections.

  1. Always follow you eye doctor's recommendations regarding of the care for your contact lens. Use only products that he/she recommends.
  2. Never use tap water with your contact lenses. Remove lenses before any activity involving water including swimming, showering or when using a hot tub. However, if you decide to wear your contact lens while swimming, use airtight swim goggles and afterwards, dispose the contact lens right away.
  3. Always wash your hands before handling your contact lenses.
  4. Every night, make sure to soak your contact lenses in a fresh disinfecting solution. Never use saline or wetting solution that is not intended for disinfection.
  5. Unless you are wearing disposable contact lenses, always clean your contact lens upon removal and rub the lenses with a stream of multipurpose solution.
  6. Clean and sterilize contact lens cases habitually and replace them at least once every 3 months to help prevent contamination.
  7. When allowing your lenses to air-dry, the case should be face-down in an area that has low humidity (e.g. in your bedroom rather than in your bathroom).

Again, prevention is better than cure. It is the best defense against Acanthamoeba keratitis or with any other diseases. Always practice good hygiene during lens use and care and when you notice unusual symptoms that might be a sign of infection, consult your eye doctor instantly.


 

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