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Acanthamoeba Keratitis

Acanthamoeba Keratitis infected eyeAcanthamoeba Keratitis (AK) is a disease of the eye caused by infection. The disease is mainly characterized by inflammation of the cornea, hence the keratitis. Acanthamoeba is the parasite that causes the disease. It is a single celled organism called an amoeba. These amoebae are found in fresh water sources.

AK most commonly affects contact lens wearers. In an American study on AK, it was found that 90% of those infected are contact users. Most infections occur when lenses come in contact with contaminated water supplies and are not properly cleaned and disinfected afterwards.

Since AK’s discovery in the 70’s, the number of cases has steadily increased. Many scientists attribute this to the increased popularity of no-rub solutions used to clean contacts or the use of homemade solutions to clean and store contacts. Amoeba can be removed very easily by scrubbing during cleaning. In addition, as water purification processes become better, the likelihood of finding amoeba in the water is higher. Water companies removing potentially harmful chemicals makes it easier for microbial species to thrive in the water, as chemicals that would normally hinder their growth are not present.

Unfortunately, AK is hard to diagnose; most of the symptoms are similar to those of many other eye diseases. Physical symptoms include eye redness, eye pain, inflammation, excessive tearing, or the feeling of a foreign object in your eye. Additionally, vision might be blurred and may become sensitive to light. If left untreated, a corneal ulcer may develop. Additionally, the infection may become very painful. The eyes also might become extremely bloodshot and the sclera, the whites of the eyes, will become damaged. Inflammation may also destroy perineurium, which is a protective covering of the nervous system, which may cause nerve damage.

Since these symptoms are so common in most eye diseases and AK fairly rare, AK is often missed during diagnosis. It is often misdiagnosed as pink eye, and usually corrected when the eye does not respond to antibiotic treatment.

Powerful antiseptic drugs, such as chlorhexidine that is used in mouthwash, must be administered in order to kill the parasite. If the infection is not treated immediately, a corneal transplant is needed in order to keep the parasite from spreading deeper into the eye and preventing vision loss.

Although AK might be an extreme condition, there are simple steps that can be taken to prevent an infection. Cleaning solutions should be used periodically. A storage solution is also vital to keeping contacts in shape and clean. Water should never be used to clean nor store contacts. Every few weeks the contact lens case should thoroughly cleaned or replaced. Additionally, contact lenses should never be worn during a shower or swimming in a body of water.