Irenie Ekkeshis was a regular contact lens user when she woke to find her right eye streaming with tears and itching one morning. Speaking afterwards, she recalls thinking that she had a little infection that would clear up by Monday. However, by the evening of the same day, she couldn’t bear to go into the kitchen because the lights were too bright and it was so painful.
She went into a specialist eye hospital for a corneal scrape, which is an extremely distressing and painful procedure through which cells are taken from the surface of the eye. The results of the scrape were positive for a condition called Acanthamoeba Keratitis (AK). This rare but life-altering condition is an infection caused by a micro-organism common in water, including tap water and swimming pools.
There are about 125 people every year in the UK who are affected by the infection. Irenie recalls being confused because she hadn’t showered or been swimming in her contact lenses, but she had been unaware that even washing your hands and not drying them properly before handling your contact lenses can lead to the infection. The overwhelming majority of cases of AK in the UK are linked to the improper care and use of contact lenses.
"My advice to people is simple. Never let your lenses come into contact with water - in the shower, swimming or when washing." - Irenie Ekkeshis
Unfortunately, despite catching the infection early and receiving treatment with medicated eye drops, Irenie didn’t respond to the treatment. The cornea is one of the most pain-sensitive areas in the human body, and she spent months in pain, leading to her quitting her job and, eventually, to permanent scarring in her cornea that meant her vision was compromised.
Following two corneal transplants, both of which seemed successful at first but were then devastated by the AK infection, Irenie lost the sight in her eye. Doctors have confirmed that it is unlikely to ever return.
As a result of her suffering, Irenie discovered that none of her social circle who wore contact lenses fully understood the risks of exposing their lenses to water. As a result, she set up a campaign to have a ‘no water’ graphic added to the boxes of all contact lenses at the production stage. She also developed an initiative called The New Citizenship Project, which helps to get people more involved in society so that they feel able to influence and change their communities for the better.
Although AK infections are rare, Irenie’s story is proof that they can happen, and the results can be devastating. If you want to discuss the correct use and care of your contact lenses, you can drop by to visit us in store or speak to one of our knowledgeable, expert staff. It could help to save your sight.
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