As A Contact Lens Wearer, How Worried Should You Be About Acanthamoeba Keratitis?

If you're a contact lens wearer you may heard about and seen images of people whose eyes have become terribly infected and turned opaque, resulting in permanent loss of vision. Caused by an organism known as Acanthamoeba, this condition usually only occurs in contact lens wearers -- so if you wear contact lenses, those images probably have you questioning your safety and reaching for your glasses. But how worried should you be of Acanthamoeba keratitis? What are the chances of actually coming down with this condition, and is it preventable? Read on to learn more about what the actual risks are -- and why you really don't have to throw out your contact lenses in fear.

What do the numbers say?

Though some fear-mongering websites might try to convince you that you're at a high risk of Acanthamoeba keratitis if you wear contacts, the CDC says otherwise. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in developed countries only between 1 and 33 out of every 1 million contact lens wearers develop this condition. You are far more likely to die from choking (1 in 3,375 odds) or from exposure to excessive natural heat (1 in 6,745 odds) than to develop Acanthamoeba keratitis as a contact lens wearer. In fact, you're more likely to be executed legally (1 in 127,717 odds) than to develop this infection. Acanthamoeba keratitis does not seem so scary when you keep these odds in mind.

What can you do to protect yourself from the condition?

If the remarkably low chance of actually developing Acanthamoena keratitis has not calmed your fear of this condition, then taking action to reduce your risks even further should. Luckily, you can significantly reduce your risk just by following good contact hygiene habits, including:

  • Always washing your hands before handling your lenses or touching your eyes.
  • Changing your contact storage solution daily.
  • Switching to a new pair of contacts as often as recommended by your eye doctor. (No, you should not try to make those 2-week lenses last four weeks.)
  • Washing your contact storage case or replacing it regularly.
  • Never rinsing your contacts in saliva or water if they fall out of your eyes.
  • Never swimming or going in a hot tub with your contact lenses in your eyes.

Since there have been cases in which patients have contracted Acanthamoeba keratitis from contaminated lenses and solutions, you should also adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Never use a contact or contact solution on which the package seal has been broken before you receive or purchase the items.
  • Watch the news for recalls of the brand of contacts and solution you use.
  • Never leave your contact solution container open and exposed to the air; close it after each use.

Just in case, what symptoms should you watch out for?

Though the odds are low, some people do develop Acanthamoeba keratitis. On the very small chance you happen to be one of them, it's wise to know what symptoms to watch out for. If you get to the eye doctor for treatment early, the condition is less likely to progress to the point of permanently impairing your vision.

Early symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis are similar to that of any other eye infection. Your eye will become red and irritated, you'll experience sensitivity to light, and you'll feel like there's something in your eye. Even if you've had an eye infection before and assume what you're suffering is the same, you should always head to your eye doctor if you experience these symptoms just in case it happens to be Acanthamoeba keratitis.

As a contact lens wearer, you are at a higher risk of Acanthamoeba keratitis than the general population -- but your risk is still very, very low. Don't stay awake at night worrying that you might get this condition. Just know the symptoms and how to prevent it, and rest assured that you far more likely to die from a dog bite, a bee sting, or exposure to radiation than to develop Acanthamoeba keratitis.

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