Your eyes are precious, and taking good care of them is essential. If you’re one of the millions who wear contact lenses, you know the freedom they provide, but they also come with responsibilities. We’ve recently come across some concerning news that affects our contact lens patients, and we feel it’s our duty to share this information.
Researchers from UNSW Sydney, UTS, and the University of the West of Scotland have made a significant discovery that should concern all contact lens wearers, especially those who enjoy swimming in NSW coastal waters. They have identified Acanthamoeba, a microscopic organism, in seawater at several coastal sites. This discovery highlights a potential risk for contact lens wearers that could lead to a serious eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK).
Acanthamoeba Keratitis (AK): A Serious Eye Threat
Acanthamoeba keratitis is a rare but severe eye infection caused by Acanthamoeba. It occurs when this microscopic amoeba infects the cornea, which can result in inflammation and corneal damage. What’s particularly worrisome is that Acanthamoeba is challenging to treat because there are no drugs that can effectively kill it in both its cyst and trophozoite life stages. As a result, AK can lead to vision loss, with some patients experiencing blindness or retaining less than 25% of their vision.
While AK is rare, estimated to affect 10-40 Australians annually, contact lens wearers need to be aware of the risks. The study’s first author, Mr. Binod Rayamajhee, who is completing a PhD focused on Acanthamoeba, emphasised that contact lens wearers face a higher risk, especially if they come into contact with contaminated water.
The Risk of Swimming with Contact Lenses
A significant risk factor for AK is wearing contact lenses, particularly if they come into contact with contaminated water. UNSW researchers have previously found Acanthamoeba in tap water in bathroom sinks in greater Sydney. This means that even washing your contact lenses in tap water can pose a danger. Moreover, showering or swimming with your contact lenses in further increases the risk.
Two previous studies conducted in Sydney and Melbourne have suggested that nearly 20% of AK patients acquired the infection after swimming in seawater or freshwater while wearing their contact lenses.
The Study: Acanthamoeba in Coastal Waters
To better understand the risk, researchers collected water samples from four NSW coastal sites used for recreational activities like swimming and kayaking. The study aimed to determine whether Acanthamoeba was present in these popular water bodies. The results were startling: Acanthamoeba was detected in water samples from all four coastal sites, with 38% of samples overall testing positive.
The level of Acanthamoeba varied across the sites. The most highly urbanised site had over 50% of samples testing positive, while the least urbanised site had 32%. These findings indicated that urbanised coastal sites might be more prone to contamination, which provides an environment conducive to Acanthamoeba growth.
Conclusion: Protect Your Vision
In light of this research, we urge all contact lens wearers to exercise caution. Removing your contact lenses before swimming in coastal waters, especially in highly urbanised areas, is essential to protect your eyes from potential Acanthamoeba infection. Your vision is irreplaceable, and by taking a few precautions, you can enjoy the water safely.
Remember, your eye health is a priority, and we’re here to support you in preserving it. If you have any questions or concerns about contact lens safety or eye care, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Together, we can ensure that your eyes remain healthy and your vision remains clear.
source: Identification and quantification of Acanthamoeba spp. within seawater at four coastal lagoons on the east coast of Australia