People with contact lenses at risk of eye-eating parasite

alexandra meyer

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Contact lens wears have another reason to keep their eyes clean and safe. An eye-eating amoeba called the Acanthamoeba parasite puts contact lens users at risk of extreme pain and potential blindness.

The parasite is not extremely common, there are only about 75 cases in Britain per year however the damage is quick and often irreversible. The millions of people that wear contacts and fail to thoroughly clean the lenses are at risk of the parasite, according to experts.

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The Acanthamoeba parasite is found in dust, in the sea, in showers, swimming pools and rivers. The tiny single-celled parasite feeds on bacteria found on dirty contact lenses and cases. When the user puts the infected lens in the eye, it starts to eat its way through the cornea, the outer layer of the eyeball and breeds as it goes.

The treatment is long, painful and not completely effective. People effected by the parasite are often admitted to the hospital and require constant administration of disinfecting eye drops (in some cases every 20 minutes, day and night), and in more severe cases a corneal transplant may be needed.

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Fiona Henriquez, of the University of the West of Scotland, told the Daily Mail, “It is a potential problem for every single contact lens wearer.”

Symptoms of the parasite include itchy and watery eyes, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, swelling of the upper eyelid and severe pain. Once the parasite has entered the cornea, vision can be permanently damaged within a week.

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Optician Graeme Stevensen told the Daily Mail, “Usually a lot of it is non-compliance. Its patients rinsing their case out in tap water or rinsing their lenses out in tap water. Potentially something as simple as swimming or showering while wearing their lenses increases the risk significantly.”

To avoid this terrifying eye-devouring parasite, experts recommend using single use daily contact lenses and changing lens cases every week.

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