The Parasite that Loves Contact Lenses

Most of us are aware that we have bacteria both inside and on the surface of our bodies. We grew up learning about the “good bugs” and the “bad bugs.” There are, however, parasites and insects that can live on the human eye. These parasites, when left untreated, can cause irreparable damage.

Acanthamoeba is a single celled, microscopic, free-living ameba. It is found across the globe in both fresh and marine water, shower heads, hot tubs, swimming pools, drinking water, air and soil. The acanthamoeba parasite is quite common and most people are exposed to it throughout our lives. Everyone is at risk for developing an infection from this parasite; however, people who wear contact lenses are at the greatest risk. Acanthamoeba keratitis is an eye infection that is often caused by not using proper hygiene when handling contact lenses. The parasite can get trapped on the eye by contact lenses where it can begin to wreak havoc.

The acanthamoeba parasite can penetrate the surface of the cornea by secreting a protein that dissolves layers of it. It then finds refuge in the eye and feeds not only on bacteria, but also eye cells. Treating acanthamoeba keratitis can be challenging because the parasite can go dormant in a hostile environment.

Symptoms typically include eye pain, redness, blurred vision, light sensitivity, excessive tearing and a foreign body sensation. It is important to seek out  help immediately if such symptoms are present. Treatment is most successful when caught early.

To prevent acanthamoeba keratitis it is important to have regular eye examinations. If you wear contact lenses, you should follow the instructions provided by the lens manufacturer and be sure to remove your contacts before partaking in any activity that involves the water. The risk of developing this infection is increased in the summer when people are using pools, hot tubs and even swimming in the ocean. If you do not like donning your glasses before jumping in the ocean or pool, you may also want to consider having LASIK or PRK.

If you have questions about acanthamoeba keratitis, or would like to schedule a LASIK or PRK consultation, please call Raleigh Eye Center at (919) 876-2427 or visit us online.