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Woman Loses Eye After Showering With Her Contacts In. The Parasite That Caused it Is Surprisingly Common

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It was just a shower, but it cost Petra van Kalmthout her eye.

As the Daily Mail reports, in 2015, van Kalmthout was on a sailing trip when she took a shower. Unfortunately, she didn’t take her contact lenses out first.

Within a few days, van Kalmthout’s eye had become irritated, red, and painful. She told the Daily Mail:

“I had a party and in the evening my eye hurt a bit. I immediately took out my contact lens. I threw it away. The next day my eye was red and was even more painful.”

She went to a general practitioner in her native country of Belgium and was prescribed eye creams and drops to deal with the irritation. But the pain only got worse.

That’s when she visited Antwerp University Hospital. There, specialists discovered that a parasite called acanthamoeba keratitis had burrowed into the cornea of her right eye.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), acanthamoeba keratitis is caused by a microscopic, single-celled organism called the acanthamoeba. The acanthamoeba is very common and can be found in air, soil, and bodies of water. When it infects the cornea, it can result in blindness or visual impairment.

Symptoms of acanthamoeba keratitis include redness or pain in the eye, sensitivity to light, blurry vision, excessive tearing, and the sensation of having something in the eye.

Though the infection can be effectively treated with chlorine eye drops, by the time specialists had discovered the parasite in van Kalmthout’s eye, it was too late for the drops to work. She underwent two separate surgeries as doctors tried to save her eye. In the end, however, the infected eye had to be removed. She told the Daily Mail:

“When I had my eye removed it was the end of a period with pain. And yes, that you then have to live your life with an eye patch is a choice which you consciously make.”

After two years with an eye patch, van Kalmthout has received an ocular prosthetic. She told the Daily Mail that the prosthetic has enabled her to live her life again and that she plans to start with, “a night out dancing.”

According to the CDC, acanthamoeba keratitis can affect anyone, but is most commonly found in those who wear contact lenses. Causes include improperly disinfecting or handling your lenses, contact with contaminated water, trauma to the cornea, swimming, showering, or using a hot tub without removing your lenses.

Van Kalmthout told the Daily Mail that it was difficult to contemplate how something as small as a shower could have had such a serious impact:

“The water that comes out of the tap can cause a lot of suffering. For three years my eye determined my life.”

It’s a lesson that Stacey Peoples would like people to know more about. Peoples, a mother-of-four from Aurora, Colorado, also suffered from acanthamoeba keratitis thanks to the combination of contact lenses and contaminated water.

According to CBS Denver, Peoples got the infection in 2014, while swimming with her son. She told CBS that she didn’t know at the time that contact lenses shouldn’t come in contact with water. When the infection set in, the pain was horrific:

“It felt like somebody was snapping rubber bands in my eye nonstop with the back of the eye feeling like it was going to blow out.”

Peoples says she was repeatedly misdiagnosed before they identified the infection and added, “I was suicidal for a couple days because the pain was so bad.”

The mom lost vision in that eye for more than a year before a cornea transplant restored her sight. She now wants people to know about the acanthamoeba, which she called a, “pretty scary little term for a parasite that attaches itself to a person’s cornea and effectively eats through a person’s eye.”

The CDC recommends that contact lens wearers carefully follow the manufacturer’s and eye care provider’s instructions when wearing, cleaning, and storing their contacts. In addition, it is important to wash hands with soap and water, then dry them before handling contacts. Finally, contact lenses should be removed before any water activity, including swimming, showering, or using a hot tub.

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