Can you go blind from wearing contact lenses in the shower?
28 July 2020
Do you wear contact lenses?
If you’re one of the 4 million British people that wear contact lenses, you probably know about some of the hassles that come with them. These range from having to take your lenses out before having a quick nap, to the discomfort caused when one isn’t sitting properly in your eye. There are several factors that people complain about when it comes to contact lenses, but one of the main ones is the danger of wearing them in water.
While this might sound a bit trivial to begin with, it’s actually something that, as a contact lens wearer, you have to deal with on a daily basis. Wearing your contacts but need a quick shower before heading out again? Well, you’ll have to take the lenses out and then either clean and disinfect them thoroughly before putting them back in, or dispose of them and use a new pair entirely (depending on whether you use reusable or single use contacts). Or perhaps you’re on holiday and want to jump in the pool spontaneously, but you’re wearing your contacts… cue the same problems.
It’s minor inconveniences like this in day to day life that encourage people to take shortcuts where they can – and quite often that seems to be not removing their contact lenses in water, whether that’s the shower, swimming pool, hot tub, or bath.
Acanthamoeba keratitis infection
Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) is an infection that is generally rare but, when it does happen, it usually occurs in contact lens wearers. In fact, there are between 1 and 21 infections per million contact lens wearers each year. AK is a parasitic infection of the cornea, which is the front layer of the eye. You can read more about the structure of the human eye on our blog, and find out which eye parts are relevant to this contact lens article. Acanthamoeba is a single-celled amoeba which tends to be found in water, soil and air. While tap water is disinfected in this country before it reaches our homes, it still does contain some bacterial and viral germs, although they’re usually harmless. However, the acanthamoeba parasite isn’t always filtered out, which is what leads to AK infections.
The infection in contact lens wearers usually occurs when lenses are worn in the shower or swimming pool (because chlorine can’t always remove acanthamoeba), or when people try to clean their contact lenses with tap water – which is something you should never do. Contact lenses are the perfect environment to harbour, transmit and deliver microorganisms to the eye, and the parasite can often become trapped between the contact lens and your cornea, creating the ideal breeding environment for it. Further to this, if any dirt gets under your contact lenses and scratches your cornea, you increase your risk of infection even more. If you don’t wear contact lenses, however, AK infection is rare.
Contact lens induced blindness
There have been a number of cases of blindness caused by AK infections. Almost all of these occurred as a result of contact lenses coming into contact with water. In some cases, this blindness comes on suddenly as the acanthamoeba attacks the cornea. Symptoms leading up to this sudden loss of vision can include pain, blurry vision, and light sensitivity. You may also experience a white or yellow spot appearing over your iris (the coloured section of your eye). The parasite can also cause corneal scarring and bring on cataracts, both of which impair vision – either partially or completely.
Thankfully, treatment for AK infection is available in the form of corneal transplants. This replaces damaged corneal tissue with healthy corneal tissue from a decease donor, restoring vision. Cataract surgery is also available for anyone suffering with cataracts brought on as a result on an AK infection. This involves taking out your eye’s natural lens, which will have become cloudy, and replacing it with an artificial lens to allow clear vision again.
Recent polls have made it apparent that the majority of contact lens wearers aren’t actually aware of the impacts of getting water on their lenses, or even sleeping in them. A YouGov poll last year revealed the following:
- People who had water come into contact with their lenses: 54%
- People who slept in their contact lenses: 47%
- People who cleaned their contact lenses in their mouth: 15%
- People who knew you shouldn’t wash your lenses in tap water: 27%
There has been a three-fold increase in the past year in AK infections, and it’s clear to see that it’s because people don’t know much about contact lens safety and the dangers of water around them. Raising awareness around the correct practices for cleaning your contact lenses, and hygiene processes for inserting them, are important in combatting the rise of AK infections.
So, the answer to whether or not you can go blind from wearing your contact lenses in the shower – or swimming pool, for that matter – is very firmly yes. Make sure you’re using the correct contact lens cleaning solutions and that you’re not exceeding the upper limit of time for which you can wear your contact lenses.
Alternatives to contact lenses
There are actually a number of alternative options that we offer at Optimax, to help you move away from contact lenses and glasses. These choices range from laser eye surgery, to implantable contact lenses and lens exchange surgery.
Your suitability for each procedure may vary depending on your prescription and individual eye health, so you can use our suitability checker to get an idea of the best vision correction option for you. Please contact us on 0800 093 1110 to book in for a consultation or email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you may have.
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