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contact lens care prevent acanthamoeba from summer swimming

Taking proper care of your contact lenses is essential for them to work correctly and to prevent infection. Normally, the types of infections caused by wearing contacts for longer than prescribed or not cleaning them as directed are keratitis (infection of the cornea) or other variations of viral, bacterial, or fungal infections.  

Recently, the American Optometric Association released there has been an increase in the number of eye infections caused by acanthamoeba. While acanthamoeba is found in tap water, they are found in the highest concentrations in streams, rivers, lakes, pools, and hot tubs, as well as in the soil.  

As a result, contact lens wearers need to be especially diligent at this time of year when outdoor recreation, including swimming and gardening, brings you in closer contact with acanthamoeba populations.  

Never Use “Leftover” Treatments on a Future Infection 

PLEASE NOTE: Never use “leftover” antibiotic eye drops because you suspect an eye infection. Eye drops are carefully formulated to address the cause of the infection, so antibiotic drops don’t work on viruses and antiviral products don’t work on bacteria. If you happen to have an acanthamoeba infection, none-of-the-above will work. The longer you use the wrong solution to treat your eyes, the worse the infection gets and you risk killing off the beneficial bacteria and fungus that are working to protect your eyes. 

Acanthamoeba: A Single-Celled Organism To Watch Out For 

The body can withstand invasion from all types of microscopic pathogens or invaders from the environment. It’s a natural relationship and part of living on planet earth. Sometimes, though, situations make it more challenging for the body or its parts to work efficiently.  

This is why contact lens care is so important. And, during the summer months, contact lens wearers are at higher risk for infection from a single-celled organism called acanthamoeba. 

They’re found in dirt and in all kinds of water sources 

These are incredibly common in our environment and can be found using a basic microscope in the soil and in virtually any water source. Normally, any potential offender that made it into your eye would be flushed right back out again as part of your eyes’ normal cleansing cycle. 

When you wear contacts, though, that normal eye cleansing ritual (blink, flush, blink, flush) is slightly impacted because the lens has the potential to trap things against your eye. You are well aware of this if you’ve ever had even the smallest speck of dust or lint caught between the contact and the surface of your eye. 

If an acanthamoeba is trapped, or multiple acanthamoebae are trapped, between your lenses and the eye, they can begin multiplying and entering any scratches or micro-surface abrasions in the eye’s membrane. 

That’s when you become at risk for an eye infection.  In very rare circumstances that include a notably weakened immune system, acanthamoeba can also infect the brain and nervous system.  

Preventing Acanthamoeba Keratitis Infections 

The simplest way to prevent contracting an acanthamoeba keratitis infection is to practice sound, safe contact lens hygiene.  

  • Never swim with your contacts in. Swimming with your contacts puts you at risk. If you’re a swimmer and you absolutely must see in the pool or your favorite swimming hole, speak to your optometrist about prescription goggles.  
  • Always wash your hands before handling contact lenses. 
  • Rub and rinse the surface of the contact lens gently and thoroughly before storing. A quick rinse is not enough to remove acanthamoeba. 
  • Use only sterile products recommended by your doctor of optometry to clean and disinfect your lenses. Saline solution and rewetting drops are not designed to disinfect lenses. 
  • Avoid using tap water to wash or store contact lenses. If you forget your contact lens solution, use backup eyeglasses rather than take the risk. 
  • Contact lens solution must be discarded upon opening the case, and fresh solution used each time the contact lens is placed in the case. 
  • Replace lenses using your doctor’s prescribed schedule. 
  • Do not sleep in contact lenses unless prescribed by your doctor and never after swimming. 
  • Never swap lenses with someone else. 
  • Never put contact lenses in your mouth or use saliva to wet the contact lens. 
  • See your doctor of optometry regularly for contact lens evaluation. 
  • If you experience RSVP (redness, secretions, visual blurring, or pain), return to your optometrist immediately. 

Signs & Symptoms Of An Acanthamoeba Keratitis 

The signs and symptoms of acanthamoeba keratitis are similar to other eye infections: 

  • Red irritated eyes 
  • Excessive tearing 
  • Light sensitivity 
  • The feeling that something is in your eye 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Irritation has become painful 

Acanthamoeba won’t respond to the typical course of antibiotic drops we use to treat other eye infections. This is one of the first signs we need to look further for the source of the infection.  

Diagnosis And Treatment 

Always schedule an appointment with your optometrist if you feel you have an eye infection. We’d far rather send you home with soothing eye drops and the news that nothing is wrong than have you suffering at home. Eye infections can morph into more serious health and vision problems if they go unaddressed. A quick assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plan keep you on the mend. 

If you don’t respond to treatment, check back in with your optometrist and be 100% honest about any situations where you didn’t adhere to proper contact lens care. We understand, but knowing that you dove into the neighborhood pond or swam over the weekend with your contacts in – rather than out – is important to know. In that case, we’ll re-examine the eye and run further lab tests to establish if acanthamoeba is the cause. If so, we’ll provide you with a topical treatment that must be applied daily and for a consistent period of time (depending on the degree of your infection).  

If the infection was severe and eye tissue was damaged, we may need to remove the damaged tissue and perform another biopsy to ensure all of the acanthamoebae are removed.

Contact Us

If your eyes are red and itchy, odds are you won’t have acanthamoeba keratitis. However, we do recommend contacting our office to find out why they’re irritated so we can take care of them. The team at Atlantic Eye Institute will examine you, review your contact lens habits, and get your eyes back to healthy again. 

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