Basics of Parasitic/Amebic Keratitis
Acanthamoeba Keratitis (AK)
Eye infection from Acanthamoeba.
Acanthamoeba keratitis, or AK, is a rare but serious infection of the eye that can cause permanent vision loss or blindness 1. This infection is caused by a tiny ameba (single-celled living organism) called Acanthamoeba. Acanthamoeba causes Acanthamoeba keratitis when it infects the cornea, the clear dome that covers the colored part of the eye 1.
Symptoms of AK include: 2
- Sensation of something in the eye
- Eye pain
- Eye redness
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Excessive tearing
If you experience any of these symptoms, remove your contact lenses (if you wear them) and call your eye doctor right away. AK is a rare condition, but if left untreated it can result in vision loss or blindness 3.
Acanthamoeba is very common in nature and can be found in bodies of water (for example, lakes and oceans) and soil 4. It can also be found in tap water, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning units, and whirlpools 4. Infection of the eye occurs when the Acanthamoeba organisms contained in water or contact lens solution enter the eye through small scrapes that can be caused by contact lens wear or other minor eye injuries 5, 6. The Acanthamoeba organism has to make contact directly with the eyes in order to cause AK, so this type of corneal infection cannot occur from drinking or inhaling water that has this ameba in it 5-7. AK cannot be spread from person to person.
- Do not store or handle contact lenses properly. This can include not washing hands before touching contact lenses, not rubbing and rinsing lenses after taking them out, and not storing them in the recommended contact lens solution 10, 11.
- Do not disinfect contact lenses properly. This can include using tap water to clean the lenses or lens case, or adding fresh solution to existing used solution in the case instead of using only fresh solution when storing contact lenses 9, 11-13.
- Swim, use a hot tub, or shower while wearing lenses 14-16.
- Have a history of trauma to the cornea, such as a previous eye injury 7, 17.
In 2007, CDC investigated a nationwide outbreak of Acanthamoeba keratitis which led to the recall of a specific type of contact lens solution from the market 11, 13. Another nationwide outbreak in 2011 pointed to inadequate hygiene among contact lens wearers, in addition to water exposure and “topping off”—adding fresh solution to old solution—in the contact case.
Early diagnosis is important because early treatment can prevent AK infections from becoming more severe 3. The infection is usually diagnosed by an eye doctor based on symptoms, lab results from a scraping of the eye, and/or through a close-up eye exam that allows the eye doctor to see the ameba 2.
- CDC. Acanthamoeba
- Prevent Blindness. Acanthamoeba keratitis and contact lensesExternal
- Animal Planet. Monsters Inside Me: The Eye-Eating ParasiteExternal
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