- Stacey Peoples says she contracted the eyeinfectionAcanthamoeba Keratitis after swimming while wearing contact lenses, CBS4 reported in September.
- The infection made her go blind in one eye until she received a cornea transplant.
- Acanthamoeba Keratitis is extremely rare in the US, but most cases do occur in contact lens wearers.
- Experts say contact wearers should never rinse or store lenses in tap water, and avoid bathing or swimming in their lenses.
A woman who contracted a parasitic eye infection that left her partially blind is retelling her painful story to offer others a warning: Never swim while wearing contact lenses.
Stacey Peoples, an educator from Colorado, believes the ordeal began back in 2014, when she went for an ordinary swim in a pool with her son, Colorado CBS affiliate CBS4 reported back in September. At the time, she was wearing contact lenses.
About a week later, her eye became red and itchy and began to hurt, Peoples told the “Today” show, also in September. Over the following weeks, her condition worsened and the pain intensified.
“It felt like somebody was snapping a rubber band in the front of my eye every few seconds, but then at the same time, the back of the eye felt like … it was going to explode through the back of my head,” she told “Today.” “The side of my face felt like a constant migraine.”
Soon, she lost vision in her eye and became so sensitive to light that she couldn’t work or drive.
“I was suicidal for a couple of days. If I had not had family and incredible support, I’m not sure what would have happened,” she told “Today.”
Eventually, a cornea specialist identified the root cause: Peoples was suffering from Acanthamoeba keratitis, a rare eye infection that’s most common in contact lens wearers.
Acanthamoeba Keratitis is caused by an amoeba, and contact users are more at risk
Acanthamoeba keratitis happens when the microscopic single-celled amoeba Acanthamoeba infects the clear outer covering of the eye, or the cornea, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Acanthamoeba is commonly found in air, soil, and water.
The symptoms can include eye pain and redness, blurred vision, light sensitivity, and a feeling that something is in your eye. The CDC recommends that anyone with these symptoms see their eye doctor, because untreated Acanthamoeba keratitis can lead to severe pain, vision loss, or blindness.
The infection can happen to anyone, but about 85% of Acanthamoeba keratitis cases occur in contact lens wearers, according to the CDC. However, it’s important to know that the overall number of cases is extremely low. In developed countries, there are approximately one to 33 cases of the infection per million contact wearers, the CDC says.
Contact users are at a higher risk for the infection because soft contacts can act like a sponge, absorbing contaminated water and allowing impurities like Acanthamoeba to enter the eye through the cornea, Dr. Thomas Steinemann, a clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), explained to the “Today” show.
And among people who use contacts, certain activities can increase the risk of getting Acanthamoeba keratitis, including improper lens disinfection, cleaning lenses in tap water, swimming or bathing while wearing lenses, according to the CDC.
“Our warning is: Contact lenses and water don’t mix,” Steinemann told the “Today” show.
Peoples endured 15 months of “acid drops” as treatment
The CDC says that an eye care provider can determine which prescription medications are needed to treat a case of Acanthamoeba keratitis.
According to the AAO website, medical treatment for the infection is “still evolving,” but successful treatment has been reported with combinations of antibiotic, antiparasitic, antifungal, and antiviral drugs.
Peoples was prescribed an eye drop that she had to use for 15 months, but they were so painful to use she described them as “acid drops,” the “Today” show reported.
The infection is extremely rare, but you can take steps to prevent it
Steinemann told the “Today” show that contact wearers should not shower or swim while wearing lenses. If you do swim in lenses, he added, you should take them out and disinfect them as soon as you get out of the water. (Or throw them away, if they’re the single-use variety.)
By the way: Keeping your contacts away from water will help prevent more than just AcanthamoebaKeratitis. This habit is one component of good contact lens hygiene, which can lower the risk of other eye infections, too.
In its explanation of proper contact care, the AAO says lens wearers should always remove contacts before bathing, swimming, or doing anything where water can get into your eyes. The organisation adds that lenses should never be rinsed with or stored in tap water, either.
Peoples regained her lost sight after a corneal transplant
In April 2015, Peoples underwent a corneal transplant that restored the vision she’d lost, CBS4 reported. That experience has moved her to become an advocate for organ donation, the report added.
“[The transplant] gave me back my life, it gave me my job back, it gave me my kids back,” she told CBS4. “It was unbelievable. True miracle.”
Peoples did not immediately respond to INSIDER’s request for comment.
Watch her complete interview with CBS4 below:
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