- Andrew Carthew initially thought his weepy eye was due to conjunctivitis
- But when he started to suffer from pain he immediately went to hospital
- He was given medication for an ordinary eye condition which didn’t work
- But then a month later, doctors revealed he had acanthamoeba keratitis
- After fighting it once, it returned and surgeons had to remove his eye
A paramedic was forced to have his eye removed after his contact lenses were infected by a parasite.
Andrew Carthew, 59, from Wadebridge, Cornwall, woke up with a weepy eye in June last year but assumed he just had conjunctivitis.
But the following evening, the father-of-two suffered pain and a sensitivity to bright light in his left eye and went straight to hospital.
After being diagnosed with an ordinary eye infection, the paramedic of 37 years was forced to lay at home in the dark as medication did little to improve his condition.
Doctors then revealed he had acanthamoeba keratitis a month later, an infection caused by an amoeba — a parasite found in almost all soil, fresh and sea water.
Months of treatment helped to fight the infection, but it returned after Christmas, leaving surgeons with no choice but to remove his eye.
Andrew Carthew, 59, had to have his eye removed after he was diagnosed with acanthamoeba keratitis – a parasite that had burrowed into his eyeball
Mr Carthew said: ‘The pain is absolutely shocking with it.
‘I can only describe it like a toothache radiating from the eye but it affects all that side of you face.
‘There was about six to eight weeks were all I did was lay in a darkened room with sunglasses on and the only time I ever went out was to go to hospital.
‘You wouldn’t believe that an eye infection could be so debilitating.’
The infection thrives where limescale and bacteria are present, but contact lens wearers are at highest risk if they clean their lenses or lens cases in tap water, or if they swim, shower or bathe while wearing their lenses.
This means the parasite can become trapped between the lens and the eye, allowing it to burrow into the eyeball.
The vast majority of victims – some 85 per cent – are people who wear contact lenses where poor lens hygiene increases the risk.
Around one in 50,000 contact lens wearers in the UK are affected each year by the condition but only a minority of them lose their sight.
Mr Carthew did not clean his lenses in water but experts believe the parasite may have been transferred through contamination on his finger.
Months of treatment to save his sight included overnight stays in hospital to administer hourly eye drops and an emergency cornea transplant in early November.
But the infection returned after Christmas and progressed towards the back of ‘s eye, where if it hit his optic nerve could have been fatal, doctors said.
Mr Carthew, from Wadebridge, Cornwall, said: ‘You wouldn’t believe that an eye infection could be so debilitating’
By Easter the infection had become life-threatening and surgeons had no choice but to remove his eye in May.
Although the operation meant he had to retire as a paramedic, he is now starting to get his life back on track.
Mr Carthew added: ‘My consultant said that I was the first person to have lost my eye because of what happened for 15 years.
‘It was a gradual process, I hadn’t had any sight since it had all started, within six weeks I lost vision in that eye and I’ve never got it back.
‘So it didn’t change a lot really, the big thing was getting over the fact you’d actually lost your eye.
‘I got a bit depressed, you try to keep upbeat but throughout the whole process I had episodes of feeling quite down about it.
‘But in a practical way, if I didn’t have the eye removed, it could have killed me, looking at it in that sense it’s a no-brainer and I just best get on with life really.’
Mr Carthew is now trying to raise awareness of the infection that typically affects contact lens wearers.
He added: ‘I just want to bring this in the open so people are aware of what a terrible disease it is really and easily it can affect you.
‘We all go through life putting our contact lenses in and thinking their wonderful but it can change.
‘I’ve spoken to quite a few people who wear contact lenses and a couple of them have actually stopped wearing them after hearing what I’ve gone through. It’s made people very aware of how to clean them properly.
‘I think opticians need to tell people what could happen and that infections are likely and in my case severe infections are rare but they can happen.’
THE PARASITE IN TAP WATER THAT CAN LEAVE YOU BLIND
Though rare, acanthamoeba keratitis is an extremely painful, sight-threatening condition.
The organism eats the cornea, the transparent cover of the eye, says Parwez Hossain, a consultant ophthalmologist at Southampton General Hospital’s eye unit.
Left to burrow, the amoeba can penetrate through the eyeball, causing total vision loss within weeks.
‘The condition is pure torture — the amoeba is attacking the nerves of the cornea — and treatment itself is very painful,’ Mr Hossain previously said.
Acanthamoeba keratitis generally occurs with poor hygiene, experts say
‘It can involve a year of regular and toxic eye drops.
‘The problem is that people have no idea of the risks of swimming or showering while wearing lenses.’
What’s more, cases are on the rise.
‘At Southampton we have noticed an increase, as have other eye units around the country, perhaps due to a lack of awareness of contact lens hygiene,’ Mr Hossain added.
A letter from doctors at Bristol Eye Hospital to the BMJ stated that many acanthamoeba keratitis patients had been washing lenses in tap water and showering or swimming wearing them.
And there are many more common eye infections linked to poor lens hygiene that can have similarly devastating results.
‘Pseudomonas bacteria cause the most common type of infection in contact lens wearers,’ said Mr Hossain.
‘It’s another bug that lives in water and can destroy your sight within 24-36 hours.
‘A common symptom is green pus and pain, discomfort and light sensitivity after only a few hours.
‘It’s often mistaken for conjunctivitis but, if you have these symptoms, it’s vital to seek medical help, as after two or three days, the cornea may perforate.’
The problem generally occurs with poor hygiene.
‘Even daily disposables are risky if your hands aren’t clean,’ added Mr Hossain.
‘You need to wash hands with soap and water to get rid of bacteria, then dry them on a clean towel.
‘And never run lenses under a tap, as parasites could get onto your lens and into your eye.’
Not changing contact lenses when you’re supposed to is another problem.
But by far the biggest culprit for infections is not replacing your lens case every month.
Over time, cracks in the case can form in which micro-organisms can thrive.
Mr Hossain warns that young people are leaving themselves particularly vulnerable to infections.
‘They tend to be quite relaxed when it comes to the hygiene standards required for wearing contact lenses and that’s reflected in the number of people under 50 being treated for severe cases of corneal infection, with an average age of 30.
‘This, coupled with an explosion of cheap online stores, means the consequences can be grim,’ he explained.
‘An audit we performed at Southampton discovered a number of patients presenting to eye casualty had bought online.’
For contact lens advice visit www.bcla.org.uk.