In what seems to be a classic horror movie plot devised from a nightmare, a 23-year-old Taiwanese student lost her eyesight to an amoeba infection that quite literally gnawed at her corneas.
Sources say that Lian Kao, the student, acquired the amoebic infection after wearing her contact lenses for six months straight, without changing them or removing them for cleaning…or even swimming.
The infection — known as keratitis — is caused by acanthamoeba, a single-celled organism that causes serious infections in the eye, skin and nervous system and is usually found in swimming pools and showers, among other places. Once an acanthamoeba makes contact with a contact lens, it begins to feed on the bacteria present on its surface. If the lens is left untreated, it will eventually make its way to the retinas, where it will begin to feed on the bacteria in the surface in order to burrow deeper into the corneas and feed on tissue.
While early stages of the infection can be treated with prescribed medication, diagnosis is often complicated and delayed until it is — perhaps — too late to treat the infection successfully.
“Contact lens wearers are a high-risk group that can easily be exposed to eye diseases. A shortage of oxygen can destroy the surface of the epithelial tissue, creating tiny wounds into which the bacteria can easily infect, spreading to the rest of the eye and providing a perfect breeding ground. The girl should have thrown the contact lenses away after a month, but instead, she overused them and has now permanently damaged her corneas,” said Jian-Liang Wu, director of ophthalmology at the Wan Fang Hospital in Taiwan.
Lian Kao’s experience highlights the importance of regularly cleaning your contact lenses. While most people will be exposed to acanthamoeba during their lifetime, few people will develop acanthamoeba keratitis — which can result in permanent visual impairment or blindness.
Basic eyewear hygienic practices, however, could keep your eyes from becoming stars in their own horror film.