Contact lens wearers should think twice before diving into a pool with their lenses on. A new study out of Australia clearly shows that people who wear contacts while swimming are at a higher risk of contracting the Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) parasite.
AK thrives in all water sources around the world. Once it gets between contact wearers' lenses, AK can easily puncture the retina and cause permanent blindness within a few weeks.
Researchers at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne looked at 18 years of eye medical records and found that 86 percent of people who had AK also wore their contacts while swimming. Besides swimming in a natural spring, scientists found that taking showers, relaxing in hot tubs, or even swimming in chlorinated pools with contacts on put people at a higher risk for AK.
One fifth of the AK patients in this study had to undergo serious surgical procedures. The most common surgery used to remove the AK parasite is a corneal transplant.
Even people who wore goggles over their contact lenses while swimming were at a higher risk of catching AK. Eye doctors on this study made it clear that the only way to avoid AK is to take contacts out before jumping into the pool.
Another recent study from the University of Queensland found that AK diagnoses have doubled between 2005 and 2009. Most of the people who were diagnosed with AK wore contact lenses while swimming.
Contact lens wearers who didn't practice proper hygiene were at an even greater risk for developing AK. Anyone wearing reusable contacts must wash their lenses in solution every day, clean out their lens container with solution, and never go to sleep with their lenses on. If possible, doctors recommend switching to daily disposable lenses to cut the risk of infection.
One Briton who's raising AK awareness is a man by the name of Andrew Carthew. Carthew, 59, worked as a paramedic before contracting AK. He told reporters the pain of AK was like having a constant toothache in his eye. Sadly, Carthew had to have one eye surgically removed due to this parasite.
Carthew's message is extremely prescient considering the number of contact lens patients in the UK is steadily rising. There are now around 3.5 million contact lens wearers in the UK, 1.6 million more patients than in 1992.
Anyone wearing contacts should heed all these warnings and practice immaculate hygiene. Never expose contact lenses to any water source, especially tap water.
Professional swimmers who wear contacts should invest in prescription-strength goggles. Another option is to ask an optometrist about an ortho-k procedure or laser eye surgery. Both of these methods have helped people with myopia achieve glasses-free 20/20 vision.
Anyone interested in this Australian study should check out the most recent edition of the British Journal of Ophthalmology. Dr. Rasik Vajpayee of the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital was the study's lead author.