Have you ever put your contact lenses in and forgotten about them altogether as you go about your business for a couple of days? Well, it’s time to stop doing that as contacts can be as dangerous as they are useful.
Did you know that the design of the modern contact lens is based on an original concept of Leonardo da Vinci’s? In his 1508 Codex of the eye, Manual D, da Vinci described a method of correcting eye problems by either submerging the head in a bowl of water or wearing a water-filled glass hemisphere over the eye. 
However, neither idea was practically implementable in da Vinci’s time. Today’s contact lenses are thin transparent lens placed directly on the surface of the eye to correct vision problems and for cosmetic, or therapeutic reasons. Modern technology has made the contact lenses a popular ocular prosthetic device used by over 150 million people worldwide.
But this was the last thing on Nick Humphreys’ mind when the contact lens he got to improve his sight while playing football led to a serious eye infection that left him blind in one eye. He wore them in the shower, leading to Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) – a rare parasitic infection in his right cornea. 
A memorable lesson
Nick Humphreys, a 28-year-old journalist and former pro soccer player from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England was forced to undergo two operations on his right eye and is now waiting to have a corneal transplant all because he didn’t take his lenses out before taking a shower. This wasn’t the first time he was wearing his contact lens in the shower and would regularly do so.
“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.”
Humphreys, who has been wearing glasses since he was four-years-old, decided to get monthly lenses to improve his sight while playing football in 2013.
“In my mid-twenties I really started to throw myself into exercise and at the time I thought my glasses were a massive hindrance,” he explained. “When I finally got over my fear of putting contacts in, I thought they were the best thing ever.”
He fell into a routine where he would wear contacts for five days in the week and wear glasses on the other days. 
“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.”
However, he noticed a scratch on his right eye but assumed that he’d scratched his eye while putting lenses in. After a few weeks, it became pretty obvious that he had contacted something more serious.
“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.”
Humphreys finally decided to go see an optician who diagnosed his scratch as an ulcer and recommended that he take a test at the hospital.
“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 (AK).”
The tiny sight breaker
Acanthamoeba keratitis is a rare, vision-threatening, parasitic infection caused by a tiny organism called Acanthamoeba, which is found in water. This infection is seen most often in contact lens wearers. It was first recognized in 1973 but is still both difficult to diagnose and treat. 
A week later, Humphreys was told that he had tested positive for the infection and was asked to used disinfectant eye drops for three weeks. This seemed to do the trick for a while. However, in March 2018, things took a turn for the worse when he suddenly went completely blind in his right eye.
“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 realize I needed to get back to the hospital.”
Humphreys was left housebound and his mental health began to suffer while doctors tried to figure out the best course of action.
“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.”
Road to sight
Approximately six months after his first diagnosis, Humphreys’ doctors decided that the best option was to perform a corneal cross-linking, which involves using ultraviolet light and vitamin B2 drops to stiffen the cornea and clear the infection. The operation was successful but he remained blind in one eye.
“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.”
In September 2018, Humphreys underwent an amniotic membrane transplant to his right cornea at the Birmingham and West Midland Eye Centre. This procedure involves grafting tissue from the amniotic membrane on to the eye to protect the cornea. Although the procedure was a success, he became depressed with his situation. 
“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.”
Humphreys is working with Fight for Sight charity to raise awareness about the danger of using contact lenses while in the water.
“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.”
He is yet to undergo a second corneal transplant to replace his damaged cornea with healthy donor tissue.
“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.” 
- Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contact_lens
- Metro: https://metro.co.uk/2019/07/09/man-blinded-parasite-living-eye-showered-contact-lenses-10139579/
- The Sun: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/9467286/blind-parasite-showering-contacts/
- Eye Wiki: https://eyewiki.aao.org/Acanthamoeba_Keratitis
- UNILAD: https://www.unilad.co.uk/health/man-who-showered-in-contact-lenses-blinded-after-parasite-burrowed-into-his-eye/
- Daily Mail: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-7228031/Amateur-footballer-left-blind-parasite-showered-contact-lenses-in.html
- Live Science: https://www.livescience.com/65916-parasitic-eye-infection-showering-with-contact-lenses.html