A UK reporter’s harrowing story of losing sight in his right eye is sure to terrify anyone who’s been lax about contact lens hygiene. He contracted a rare parasitic infection, likely as a result of showering with his contacts in. The costly mistake required over 18 months of intensive treatments, and there’s a chance he may never see out of his right eye again.
Nick Humphreys, a 29-year-old senior reporter at the local Shropshire Star, told his tale in a column for the outlet this week. According to Humphreys, the trouble began in January 2018. His right eye, which had been noticeably dry for a week, became incredibly sensitive to light and filled with pain. After over-the-counter eye drops failed to do anything, he visited an eye doctor, where an ulcer was discovered. A visit to the hospital afterward eventually revealed the culprit of his symptoms: an infection of the cornea caused by a protozoan called Acanthamoeba.
“Lurking in our water and soil is a parasitic bug which can destroy your eye and leave you blind,” Humphreys wrote.
His treatment of disinfectant eye drops initially went well, but in March 2018, he entirely lost vision in his right eye; the infection had returned. He spent the next six months in agonizing pain, barely able to leave the house or even read. He undertook a time-consuming treatment regimen in which he had to use eye drops every hour. With his condition worsening, Humphreys eventually received an experimental surgery where layers of the eye were peeled away so that doctors could expose it to a heavy dose of vitamins and ultraviolet radiation (the procedure, called cross-linking, has emerged as a last resort treatment for cases of Acanthamoeba keratitis that haven’t responded to medication in recent years).
Thankfully, the surgery seemed to do the trick in treating the infection. But Humphreys still required another surgery months later to repair and heal from the complications of his extensive medical treatment. Now 18 months out, he’s scheduled for a full corneal transplant this August (along with cataract surgery) that should hopefully restore at least some vision in his right eye.
For those of you who wear contacts, it’s worth noting that Acanthamoeba
keratitis is rare. Our eyes aren’t typically where the amoeba likes to call home. But it does seem to be becoming more common in some areas of the world, like the UK. When a person wears contacts, it makes them susceptible to infection from this bug, because the lenses can transfer the germ from contaminated water or soil straight to your eyes, as well as trap them there.
Acanthamoeba is abundantly found in water and soil, so there’s no surefire way to tell how Humphreys might have contracted it. But the overwhelming majority of its victims are contact lenses wearers—as much as 85 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The major known risk factors for contact wearers include showering or swimming with your lenses on, washing your contacts with tap water, or mishandling them while putting them in your eyes or storing them for the night. Lenses that are left in for too long periods of time can also provide more opportunities for infection.
Humphreys, for his part, hoped that retelling his experience can serve as a cautionary tale for others.
“I can honestly say if I’d had the slightest idea that this was even a remote possibility I would never have worn contacts in the first place. It’s crucial that people out there know this is a reality and can happen because of something as simple as showering,” he wrote.
He’s also pushing for contact lens manufacturers to include more explicit warning labels for their products.