WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — Researchers are warning about a dangerous parasite found in dust, as well as sea, pool and tap water, that could cause blindness to contact lens users.
The acanthamoeba parasite has the potential to gnaw through the eyeball of an exposed contact lens wearer, which results in blindness, the Belfast Telegraph reports.
The Centers for Disease Control refers to the ocular infection as “acanthamoeba keratitis” on its official website.
“[The parasite] is a microscopic, free-living [amoeba], or amoeba … that can cause rare, but severe infections of the eye, skin, and central nervous system,” the site states. “The [amoeba] is found worldwide in the environment in water and soil … [and] can be spread to the eyes through contact lens use, cuts, or skin wounds or by being inhaled into the lungs.”
Symptoms reportedly include itchy, watery eyes, sensitivity to light, swelling in the upper eyelid, blurred vision, and extreme pain. Additionally, the damage to a sufferer’s vision could become permanent within a week of infection, optician Graeme Stevenson told the Daily Mail.
“Generally it leaves you with scarring. Your cornea is your window on life and if the infection penetrates in towards the third layer you are left with scarring, with a kind of frosty windscreen,” he explained to the Daily Mail, adding that approximately 75 reported infections per year could be prevented by patients following instructions from their doctors.
Stevenson added, “Usually a lot of it is non-compliance. It’s patients rinsing their case out in tap water or rinsing their lenses out in tap water. Potentially something as simple as swimming or showering while wearing their lenses increases the risk significantly.”
Regular lens care and cleaning is recommended for those wishing to avoid infection. Treatment options reportedly include eye drops every 20 minutes, day and night, or time in the hospital.
Cornea transplants have also been given in extreme cases, the Daily Mail learned.
Though research has most recently come from the United Kingdom, scientists warn that the problem is international.
Fiona Henriquez, researcher at the University of the West of Scotland, told the Daily Mail that it could be a “potential problem for every single contact lens wearer.”