An amateur footballer has been left partially blind because a parasite burrowed into his right eye after he showered with contact lenses in.
Nick Humphreys, 29, of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, had no idea it was dangerous to wear contact lenses in the shower and would regularly do so.
In January 2018, he noticed a painful scratch on his eye which he managed with eye drops while opticians tested for an infection.
The results came back positive for Acanthamoeba keratitis, an infection from a small organism found in water that is able to get into the eye through a small cut – often caused by contact lenses.
In March 2018, Mr Humphreys, a local newspaper journalist and sports player, suddenly lost his vision while driving his car, and has since never recovered.
The 18-month ordeal has had a huge impact on Mr Humphreys’ mental health, as he struggled to come to terms with the limitations of his damaged eye – which was close to needing complete removal.
He has had two operations on his eye, one of which was to clear the infection, and is now waiting for a corneal transplant.
Nick Humphreys, 29, has been left partially blind (pictured) because a parasite started living in his right eye after he showered with contact lenses in
Mr Humphreys, of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, had started using contact lenses to improve his appearance and so he didn’t need to wear glasses playing football. Pictured before
Mr Humphreys had no idea it was dangerous to wear contact lenses in the shower and would regularly do so. Pictured now wearing glasses
Mr Humphreys said: ‘I got contacts as I didn’t like how I looked in glasses and it nearly cost me my right eye.
‘If I’d have known how dangerous it was to wear contacts in the shower, I would never have got them in the first place.
‘After getting the infection, I went from hitting the gym every other day and playing football three times a week, to being housebound for six months and losing the will to live.’
According to charities, sight-threatening AK is on the rise. It is most common in people who wear contact lenses.
Poor contact lens hygiene, using tap water to clean or store contact lenses, or contaminating lenses with tap, pool or hot tub water increase the risk of infection.
Mr Humphreys had worn glasses for short sight since he was four and in 2013, wanting to improve his looks and his sight doing sport, Mr Humphreys opted for monthly lenses, costing roughly £25 a time.
He said: ‘In my mid-twenties I really started to throw myself into exercise and at the time I thought my glasses were a massive hindrance.
‘When I finally got over my fear of putting contacts in, I thought they were the best thing ever.’
Mr Humphrey’s would use his contacts up to five days a week, wearing glasses on the other days.
He said: ‘On a standard morning I’d wake up, pop my lenses in and head to the gym before work, then I’d jump in the shower before heading to the office.
‘I thought nothing of it at the time. I was never told not to wear contact lenses in the shower. There’s no warning on the packaging and my opticians never mentioned a risk.’
Mr Humphreys woke up one morning in January 2018, and was unable to see properly through his right eye.
He assumed he had scratched it putting his lenses in, but as the week progressed it became clear something much more serious had happened.
He said: ‘For a few days I used over the counter eye drops and turned all my phone and computer display settings down to the lowest brightness, which seemed to do the trick.’
Mr Humphreys, pictured with a friend before contracting the infection, had worn glasses for short sight since he was four. He started wearing contact lenses five times a week and would shower with them on regularly until January 2018
Mr Humphreys first noticed a scratch on his eye which opticians confirmed to be an ulcer. They took scratches from his eye to test for infection – which came back positive
The newspaper journalist has had two operations on his eye, one of which was to clear the infection, and is now waiting for a corneal transplant. Pictured waiting for surgery
Deciding to go to the optician, Mr Humphreys was told he had an ulcer on his eye and advised to go to the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital immediately.
There, after being seen by a handful of eye specialists, he had five scrapings from his right eye sent away to be tested.
‘The doctors said they couldn’t be sure what was happening until they had the test results back, but that they thought it might be Acanthamoeba keratitis,’ Mr Humphreys said.
‘I’d never heard of the infection before, but as soon as I got home I turned to Dr Google and was suddenly left thinking I was going to have my right eyeball removed.’
A week later, doctors told Mr Humphreys he had tested positive for AK, leaving him fearing his footballing days were over.
Contact lenses can create small abrasions in the eye, which make it easier for the organism to attach when the eye comes into contact with water.
Mr Humphreys said: ‘I told the doctor that I’d read a few horror stories about it and asked if I would need to have my eye removed.
‘He just looked at me and said, “That could well be a possibility”.
‘That’s when I realised it was serious.’
Mr Humphreys used disinfectant eye drops for three weeks, and it like he was on the mend. Until suddenly, in March 2018 he found himself completely blind in his right eye.
He said: ‘I was driving to work and my vision completely went in my right eye.
‘I don’t know how I managed not to crash, but it didn’t take me long to realise I needed to get back to the hospital.’
Referred to the Birmingham and Midland Eye Centre, doctors prescribed higher strength eye drops that needed to be applied hourly – even at night.
After weeks of sleepless nights and unable to work, Mr Humphreys was left housebound and depressed, while doctors tried to decide the best course of action.
He said: ‘I love my job but I physically couldn’t be outside the house.
‘The pain in my eye was too much and the only time I would leave was to visit the hospital.
‘I felt at my absolute lowest and the one thing that would cheer me up – playing football – was no longer an option.’
After weeks of sleepless nights, due to constantly needing to use eyedrops, and unable to work, Mr Humphreys was left housebound and depressed with the infection (pictured)
Mr Humphreys’ sight has not returned since March 2018, when he suddenly lost his vision while driving. Pictured before the 18-month ordeal
Six months after his initial diagnosis, doctors decided the only option left was to perform a corneal cross linking in July 2018.
The procedure involves using ultraviolet light and vitamin B2 drops to stiffen the cornea by bonding fibres in the cornea more tightly.
While the procedure cleared the infection, Mr Humphreys remained blind in his right eye.
He said: ‘Obviously, I didn’t want to be blind in my right eye, but at least, knowing the infection had gone, I could start to get my life back on track. I could finally return to work and start to hit the gym.’
Mr Humphreys still needed further treatment and in September 2018, he had an amniotic membrane transplant to his right cornea at the Birmingham and West Midland Eye Centre.
The procedure involves grafting tissue from the amniotic membrane – the innermost layer of the placenta – on to the eye to protect the cornea.
It has anti-inflammatory and anti-scarring effects, as well as containing growth factors that promote wound healing on the surface of the eye.
While the treatment was a success, by Christmas 2018, following the second operation, Mr Humphreys’ outlook on life plummeted.
He said: ‘The reality of the situation had well and truly hit me, I’d let myself go since all of this happened and I was left with a gory-looking eye I had to cover with an eye patch – looking like something out of The Exorcist.’
After being referred to a counsellor by the GP, Mr Humphreys has slowly come to terms with his condition.
He is working with the charity Fight for Sight to raise awareness about the danger of using contact lenses while showering or swimming.
He said: ‘I can honestly say if I’d had the slightest idea that this was even a remote possibility I would never have worn contacts in the first place.
‘It’s crucial that people out there know this is a reality and it can happen because of something as simple as getting in the shower.’
Mr Humphreys is six weeks away from a corneal transplant – an operation that replaces a damaged cornea with healthy donor tissue from someone who has died.
He said: ‘I’ve lost 18 months of my life because of something as simple as showering with contacts in.
‘If I get my sight back I’ll never wear contacts again. Instead, like Edgar Davids – the former Dutch professional footballer – I’ll wear some prescription goggles to do sport instead.’
There has been a three-fold increase in AK in the past eight years, according to research published last year by Moorfield’s Eye Hospital.
Fight For Sight said the results are likely to have relevance to the whole UK given that the hospital treats a large amount of AK cases.
A YouGov poll for Fight for Sight revealed that a large proportion of UK contact lens wearers are putting their eyesight at risk through unsafe habits, unaware that they could develop infections like AK.
A worrying 56 per cent of people polled said they wore them for longer than the recommended 12 hours a day, 54 per cent said they had swum or showered in them and 47 per cent had slept in them.
Meanwhile, 15 per cent of respondents had put them in their mouth to clean or lubricate them and two per cent had even shared used lenses with other wearers.
WHY SHOULDN’T YOU SWIM OR SHOWER WHILE WEARING CONTACT LENSES?
Swimming or showering while wearing contact lenses puts a person at risk of blindness.
Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK), an amoeba found in water around the world, can infect the cornea – the ‘clear window’ at the front of the eye.
The burrowing amoeba can penetrate through the eyeball, causing total vision loss within just a matter of weeks.
An analysis of all incidents recorded in the past 18 years showed that 86 per cent of patients had swam with their lenses in, according to a study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
Contact lenses can create small abrasions in the eye, which make it easier for the amoeba to attach when the eye comes into contact with water.
As well as the risk of swimming, the scientists also highlighted the risk of rinsing lenses with tap water.
Acanthamoeba, which feed on bacteria, can be present in all forms of water, including lakes, oceans, rivers, swimming pools, hot tubs and even showers.
It can also be found in tap water and soil.
Although AK are generally harmless to humans, cornea infections can be extremely painful.
Treatment usually involves antiseptic drops that kill the amoeba, which may need to be taken every hour for the first few days, even while sleeping.
Source: Moorfields Eye Hospital