Like many people who don't want to wear glasses, 24-year-old Charlotte Clarkson thought corrective lenses that reshape the front of the eye while you sleep so you can see better during the day were the perfect way to improve their short- term vision. Eyesight.
But one evening she put it in with slightly damp hands and it left her blind in one eye after a tiny water-based parasite called acanthamoeba burrowed into her right cornea, the clear front part of the eye.
Worryingly, the acanthamoeba keratitis that has blinded her is increasing.
Acanthamoeba are common in soil and water, including tap water. It can get in the eye from gardening, but the main cause is poor contact lens hygiene.
Charlotte Clarkson, 24, a nanny from Edinburgh, was left blind in one eye after a tiny water-based parasite called acanthamoeba buried itself in her right cornea, the clear front part of the eye
If drops of water containing the microscopic parasite become trapped between the cornea and the contact lens that sits on the cornea, the beetle can invade the eye. It literally eats into the cornea, causing severe pain, extreme sensitivity to light, and blindness in at least a quarter of the cases.
The latest figures from University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital show that the number of cases in England has increased from an average of 18 cases per year in 2011 to 50. Up to three million people develop this disease worldwide every year.
According to research by the charity Fight For Sight, around 95 percent of infections are in contact lens wearers.
The risk is highest for those with nighttime or reusable contacts simply because people are more likely to clean their lenses with water (the risk is much lower for those who wear disposables on a daily basis, but it is still a problem).
While many opticians warn patients not to shower or swim while wearing their lenses, or to clean them with tap water, manufacturers are not required to put warnings on their packaging in the event that they become contaminated with the bug.
But the news seems to fall on deaf ears. A recent survey by Fight For Sight found that 54 percent of respondents have showered or gone swimming with lenses on, while only a quarter knew that washing lenses in water would infect them with any type of risk.
Ms. Clarkson was working at a children's holiday camp during a trip of a lifetime to Canada two years ago when the parasite got into her right eye
Also, users may not be aware that exposure to even tiny amounts of water can be enough to cause harm, as in Charlotte's case.
"I knew it was dangerous to shower or swim with contact lenses on, but I had no idea that even the slightest contact with water could be so devastating," says Charlotte, who spent three months in a darkened bedroom at the overwhelming pain of exposing her eye to light.
Charlotte, a nanny from Edinburgh, was working at a children's summer camp on a trip of a lifetime to Canada when the parasite got into her right eye two years ago.
One night, as usual, she put on the corrective lenses she'd been wearing since she was 13 before going to bed, only to wake up the next morning with a piece of grit in her eye.
When her eye became increasingly sore, red, and sore over the next few days, a doctor diagnosed a particularly aggressive sty – a small, infected lump on the eyelid that would clear up on its own.
Two weeks later, Charlotte was still in pain and received a second opinion from an optometrist who confirmed that she had a pigsty and prescribed antibiotic drops for treatment.
But her eye continued to deteriorate over the next few weeks, becoming more painful and sensitive to light, and Charlotte's boss insisted on taking her to an ophthalmologist, who is a specialist ophthalmologist.
"He looked at my eye under a microscope and literally shuddered, 'Oh my gosh,' and I knew then that I wasn't dealing with a pigsty," she recalls.
Charlotte was diagnosed with HSV keratitis – an infection caused by the cold sore virus – but the steroid drops she was given did not help and her eye became even more painful.
In fact, over the next month it became so inflamed and sensitive to light that she was hospitalized for tests and prescribed a week in a darkened room with a Canadian friend's parents.
By then the right side of Charlotte's face was badly swollen and her vision was also blurred.
It wasn't until eight weeks after her eye became sore for the first time that a specialist at the hospital where she was being treated asked Charlotte if she was wearing contact lenses – and if she might have been exposed to water in any way.
"I remembered that to avoid using a shared towel around camp, I would often shake my hands dry before getting ready for bed and putting my lenses in," says Charlotte.
"I just had no idea that handling lenses with even slightly damp hands could cause such a problem."
Bad, good, best: this is how you get the most out of our selection of dishes
This week: mushrooms
Bad: In Stroganoff
Mushrooms in a creamy stroganoff
Creamy stroganoff is a surefire way to turn mushrooms into a high-calorie dish. The dish is made from crème fraiche or sour cream and has 540 calories or 755 calories with a small serving of rice.
It is the saturated fat content in the cream that is unhealthy – a typical serving provides up to 14g, or 70 percent of your recommended daily limit, which can increase your risk of heart disease.
A healthier alternative is to stir mushrooms
A healthy way to serve mushrooms, although it increases calories to around 85 per 80g serving (compared to six calories in 100g raw). Roasting helps concentrate nutrients like potassium.
Fry in sunflower oil to add vitamin E, which works with selenium in the mushrooms to protect cells from damage caused by conditions like cancer.
Best of all: baked and stuffed
Open cap mushrooms, cooked lentils and mozzarella
For the greatest health benefits, fill open mushrooms with cooked lentils and mozzarella.
Two mushrooms then count as one in five mushrooms a day for just 250 calories plus 15g of protein from lentils and cheese. If you put the gill side of the mushrooms next to a sunny, open window for an hour, it will increase vitamin D.
A corneal scratch test, in which an anesthetic is applied to the surface of the eye before a small sample of cells is taken and examined in the laboratory, was twice negative for the acanthamoeba parasite.
While Charlotte's symptoms were consistent with the condition, she still did not have a much-needed diagnosis.
Cases like Charlotte's are often misdiagnosed, says Professor John Dart, an ophthalmologist at the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London, as the corneal scratch test picks up only half of the infections.
"Even if acanthamoeba keratitis is suspected, the corneal scraping has low sensitivity, which means we can only identify 50 percent of the real positives," he says.
Patients have a good chance of a full recovery if they receive the right treatment within a month, he adds. Otherwise, a quarter of all patients are at risk of going blind in one eye and one in ten will be blind in both eyes.
After Charlotte's eye deteriorated so much that she could no longer read the top line of a vision card, the Canadian specialist advised her to return home for treatment.
"I've had the time of my life in Canada," she says. "But I was in a lot of pain and my eyesight faded."
Back in Scotland, other steroid treatments couldn't help, and it wasn't until the winter – six months after her eye problems started – that a corneal scratch became positive and she was diagnosed with acanthamoebic keratitis.
At that point, she was in such agony that she was hospitalized for four days with antiseptic eye drops applied every hour, day and night. The eye was so intolerant to light that she was forced to spend the next three months at home with her parents.
I was stuck in the house and bedridden. I couldn't even watch or read a movie as the world was literally too bright for me. & # 39;
When she finally ventured out, it was months before she was able to take off the eye patch, sunglasses, and hat she wore inside to protect her eye from the light.
The only hope of restoring vision in her right eye is through a corneal transplant, which involves replacing the damaged cornea with a donor transplant. However, patients with Charlotte's condition are at high risk of failure.
Fortunately, Charlotte's life is back to normal after 18 months, and with her left eye unaffected, she's back to work as a nanny.
She has to use eye drops once a day, and she is well aware that she needs to keep using them as the drug may not have killed the parasite but instead "hibernated" it – meaning it can become active again, when she stops taking them.
Professor Dart believes the majority of the 4.2 million contact lens wearers in the UK simply have no idea the dangers of mixing contacts with water.
He says, "It is a scandal that contact lens manufacturers are not required to put information on how to use their packaging or stickers without water on the boxes."
People must also be aware that they must avoid any contamination with water. You can do this by cleaning and drying your hands before inserting and removing. & # 39;
Charlotte adds, “I just hope everyone reading this is extra careful when it comes to contact lens hygiene. I've been through so much so unnecessarily. & # 39;
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