Parasites from contact lenses?

by: Michelle Linn Updated:

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Contact lenses could be putting your eyes at risk.

But it’s not the contact lenses, it’s what users do while wearing them. FOX23’s Michelle Linn learned that swimming, showering, or sleeping in contracts attracts a parasite that could eat eyeballs.

“I'm 57 years old, you know, and I never thought I’d end up at a point where I would have to lose an eye,” said Oze McCallum, who lost an eye to the parasite.

He's a victim of a tiny organism seen only with a powerful microscope, called an acanthamoeba.

“I've cried over it and I’ve been angry over it, I’ve shaken my first and said ‘Why is this happening to me?’” he said.

Doctors are convinced that his contact lenses were the parasite's welcome mat.

FOX23 went to the office of Tulsa eye surgeon Dr. Ryan Conley to find out how common it is. He said too many patients are spending too much time wearing their contacts.

“There’s certain contacts approved for sleeping in, people lose track of time, sleep in far beyond the recommended duration,” said Conley.

A report published by the Centers for Disease Control a few months ago shows that the agency is tracking several multi-state eye infection outbreaks, including the acanthamoeba.

Lead researcher Dr. Jennifer Cope, who published the report, said it comes down to how users take care of their contact lenses.

“It was very disconcerting that almost all of the people we asked had at least one risky behavior,” Cope said.

They found that 50 percent of those surveyed said they'd slept overnight in their contacts, 85 percent have showered in them and 35percent rinse their lenses in tap water.

“When you expose your lens to water, you’re potentially putting yourself at risk,” Cope said.

Inserting your lenses with wet hands, even washing your lens case with water, invites the bug.

“Acanthamoeba is always in the back of our minds as causing an infection, while it is not common when it does occur it can be devastating,” said Conley.

No one is sure exactly how McCallum got infected. He lost his eye.

He said he’s not in pain, but now he’s wearing a prosthetic and learning to live with just one eye.

“Maybe my story can help somebody else not have to go through what I’m going through, then maybe there's a reason for it,” he said.

The CDC says users should:

•             Change contact lens cases every three months.

•             Don’t top off your contact lens solution; dump it and replace it every night.

•             Do not sleep in your contact lenses.

•             Keep contacts and drinking water far apart.

Read the full CDC report here.