During the summer months, many contact lens users forget to remove their contact lenses before jumping into a hot tub or diving into a pool. A recent case study published in The New England Journal of Medicine describes a 41-year-old woman who presented with pain, blurry vision and light sensitivity in her left eye. She wore monthly disposable contact lenses and kept them on while swimming and showering. On examination, the patient was found to have significantly reduced vision to 20/200 (she could see at 20 feet what the average person could see at 200 feet) in her left eye along with cloudiness and a large abrasion of her cornea (the clear part of the eye). A culture of the cornea grew an amoeba (a single celled microorganism) known as Acanthamoeba polyphaga. Eye infections from Acanthamoeba are commonly associated with poor contact lens hygiene and water exposure while wearing contacts. The patient was treated with antimicrobial eye drops and later underwent a partial-thickness cornea transplant. Ultimately her pain resolved, but her vision remained reduced to 20/80.
We wanted to discuss this patient not to scare anyone from wearing contact lenses, but to let everyone know the importance of contact lens hygiene. Contact lenses should always be removed prior to water exposure (showering, swimming or using a hot tub) with clean, dry hands. Contact lenses and storage cases should not be rinsed with tap water, and appropriate disinfecting solution should always be used to store and clean lenses. Poor hygiene, specifically improper cleaning regimens and infrequent replacement of lenses are common habits that can lead to eye infections.
This post was written in part by Janice Maliakkal, a 4th year medical student at Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso, Texas