Eyeball-Eating Amoebas: A Cautionary Tale for Contact Lens Wearers

contactMore than 30 million Americans wear contact lenses, according the Center for Disease Control, and most if not all of these individuals know the risks associated with contact lenses. Contacts require proper storage, cleaning and wear in order to reduce the risk of an eye infection or injury.

Yet one young woman in Taiwan either didn’t know of the risks or just flat out ignored them, and as a result, her vision has been permanently damaged.

The cause? Eyeball-eating amoeba that resulted from keeping her contact lenses in for six months.

Lian Kao, a student in Taiwan, left her contact lenses in for half a year, even during activities such as swimming and sleeping. Eye doctors recommend removing lenses while sleeping, swimming, and bathing, and making sure to clean them at least once per day.

Wu Jian-liang, director of ophthalmology at Taipei’s Wan Fang Hospital, explained that the contact lenses should have been worn no longer than a month and then thrown away.

Because contact lenses cover the cornea, Kao suffered permanent damage to that area of her eyes. Dr. Jian-liang said, “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.”

So how did Kao’s eyeballs get eaten by amoebas? Because she didn’t remove her contact lenses, the conditions were optimal for an acanthamoeba infection. Once the amoebas formed, they burrowed into her eyeballs, leading to her vision loss.

Proper care for contact lens wearers is key to avoiding an infection. Eye doctors recommend only handling contacts with clean hands and following doctor’s instructions regarding cleanings and replacements.

“Make sure to throw away your contacts when they’re required to be thrown away, throw monthly contacts away monthly, etc,” says Dr. Sophia W. Barnes, Optometrist at Vision Corner. “Also, make sure that your hands are very clean prior to inserting or removing contact lenses in your eyes. If your eyes are red or you’re having itchy eyes, do not wear your contacts that day.”