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Reusable contact lens users are nearly four times more likely to develop serious eye infection

Pictured above is the cloudy eye that can be caused by an Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) infection.  About 85 percent of cases are among contact lens wearers (file image)

People who wear reusable contact lenses are almost four times more likely to develop a rare eye infection that could rob them of sight, according to a study.

The British scientists behind the research also warned that wearing lenses in the shower, in the pool and while sleeping also increases the risk.

In the study, they looked at more than 200 daily or reusable contact lens wearers who came to clinics with an eye infection or other illness.

They found that Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK), which inflames the surface of the eye and can lead to blindness, was much more common among those who put in and took out the same lenses.

The infection is triggered when microorganisms reach the contact lenses through a contaminated solution or dirty hands, and then enter the eye through small tears.

Patients suffer from eye pain, redness, blurred vision, cloudy eyes and, in severe cases, can lose their sight. Treatment includes antiseptics that must be placed directly on the surface of the eye, possibly for six months to a year.

Pictured above is the cloudy eye that can be caused by an Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) infection.  About 85 percent of cases are among contact lens wearers (file image)

Pictured above is the cloudy eye that can be caused by an Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) infection. About 85 percent of cases are among contact lens wearers (file image)

Acanthamoeba keratitis: the eye infection that could leave you blind

What is Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK)?

This is an infection of the cornea, or surface of the eye, caused by a microorganism.

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How can I get the disease?

It is most common among contact lens wearers, but it can infect anyone.

The disease is triggered when the microorganism enters the eye, either by putting contact lenses in the eye with dirty hands, or by standing in the shower or swimming pool while wearing the lenses.

It then enters the eye through small tears in the surface and triggers infection.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include blurred vision, cloudy or dirty cornea, eye pain, eye redness, and watery eyes.

These may take several days or weeks to appear after infection.

Does it risk my vision?

If left untreated, the infection can lead to permanent vision loss and total blindness, the CDC says.

Other complications include swelling of the eye that is painful and partial vision loss.

Which is the treatment?

Patients are usually offered an antiseptic to help clear the infection from the eye, which is applied directly to the surface of the eye.

This may have to be taken for six months to a year.

Patients may also be prescribed antibiotics and, in some cases, may require surgery.

Source: CDC

Professor John Dart, an ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, UK, who led the study, said: “In recent years we have seen an increase in Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK).

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‘[But] while infection is still rare, it is preventable and warrants a public health response.”

He added: “Previous studies have linked AK to contact lens wear in hot tubs, pools or lakes, and here we’ve added showers to that list, underscoring that exposure to water should be avoided when wearing lenses.”

“Contact lens packaging should include lens safety and hazard prevention information, even as simple as ‘no water’ stickers on each case, particularly given that many people buy their lenses online without speaking to a health professional.”

In the study, published in the journal Ophthalmology, scientists combed through hospital records from an emergency department in southeast England for patients with daily or reusable contact lenses.

They found 83 AK cases that were seen in the unit between January 2011 and August 2014.

They then reviewed the following year’s records for contact lens wearers admitted for another illness, unrelated to infection, and found 122 cases.

Each had also completed a questionnaire about their contact lens type and daily activities.

Results showed that among the 83 AK cases only 20 (24 percent) were daily disposable lens wearers.

But the other 63 (76 percent) were people who wore reusable soft or hard lenses.

The statistics showed that the risk of developing AK was 284 percent higher among those who wore reusable lenses compared to daily lenses.

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The scientists also examined whether certain activities made infection more likely.

Of the 20 AK cases who responded to the question of whether they wore glasses in the shower, 12 (60 percent) admitted to wearing glasses.

For comparison, in the other group it was 25 of 66 (37 percent)

In the paper, the scientists said that reusable contact lens wearers were at higher risk because they were more likely to contaminate their lenses.

On how to reduce the risk, they said the lenses should not be worn overnight and contamination of the solution in which they are stored should be avoided.

Fewer than 100 Americans get an AK infection each year.

But scientists warn that rates are rising, with more than 85 percent of cases detected exclusively among contact lens wearers.

Symptoms of the infection take several days or weeks to appear, but include blurred vision, eye pain, and eye redness.

The eye may also begin to appear cloudy to others, or even feel like there is something inside.

Patients are typically offered antiseptics that need to be applied to the surface of the eye to treat the eye.

But they may also be prescribed antibiotics or even offered surgery to help control the infection.

It is estimated that 45 million people in the United States alone wear contact lenses.

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