Contact Lenses May Harbor Serious, Blinding Infection



Contact lens wearers everywhere need to be on the lookout for a rare, but potentially blinding, eye infection, British researchers warn.

The illness is typically tied to poor contact lens hygiene use. The infection combines a tiny single-cell amoeba with the bacteria keratitis. Once the eye is infected, it causes the the cornea to become painful and inflamed due to this cyst-forming microorganism. For one in every four of people infected, the disease results in a loss of most of their vision or blindness and they face prolonged treatment, the research team said.

Dr. Jules Winokur, who practices at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City said: "In clinical practice, we see cases of acanthamoeba on a regular basis". "Most often, these cases are present in patients wearing contact lenses who have been exposed to contaminated water, which could be from swimming pools, water parks or even showers at home." "The treatment of acanthamoeba can be prolonged and difficult," Winokur explained. "Toxic medications and even corneal transplantation may be necessary treatments."

The British study was led by Dr. John Dart, from University College London's Institute of Ophthalmology. His team collected data on patients seen from 1985 to 2016.

They found an increase in cases of the disease from the eight to 10 a year seen in 2000 -2003, to 36 to 65 cases per year more recently. Overall, 25 percent of those affected required corneal transplants to treat the disease or restore vision, the researchers said.

Dart's team also conducted a second study, this time in people who wore reusable contact lenses daily. The study compared those 63 diagnosed with Acanthamoeba keratitis with 213 people who went to the eye hospital for any other reason.

Dart's group found that the risk of developing the disease was more than three times greater among people with poor contact lens hygiene. This means people who didn't always wash and dry their hands before handling their lenses, or those who used a now discontinued disinfectant product containing Oxipol. In addition, people who wore their contacts in swimming pools or hot tubs were also at risk, as were those who showered or washed their face while wearing their lenses, the study found.

"People who wear reusable contact lenses need to make sure they thoroughly wash and dry their hands before handling contact lenses, and avoid wearing them while swimming, face washing or bathing," Dart said. "This increase in cases highlights the need for contact lens users to be aware of the risks," he added.

This post originally appeared on WebMd.