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I went partially blind after showering in my contact lenses

By NEW YORK TIMES

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Nick Humphreys

(NEW YORK TIMES) — A UK soccer fan was blinded in his right eye after wearing his contact lenses in the shower.

Nick Humphreys, 29, from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, has had to have two operations and is waiting to have a corneal transplant after a parasite burrowed into his eye.

The local newspaper journalist said that had he known how dangerous it was to wear contacts in the shower, he’d never have gotten them in the first place.

Humphreys started wearing glasses when he was 4 years old, but in 2013, he decided to get monthly lenses to improve his sight while playing football.

“In my mid-20s 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’d wear contacts up to five days a week, wearing 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,” he said.

“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.”

Humphreys only realized something was wrong in January 2018, when he noticed a scratch on his right eye.

He assumed that he’d scratched his eye while putting lenses in, but as the week went on, it became obvious that something more serious had happened.

“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,” he explained.

Eventually, Humphreys went to see an optician, who told him that he had an ulcer on his eye and recommended he go to the hospital immediately.

“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),” he said.

That’s an infection of the cornea, caused by a tiny organism called Acanthamoeba, which is found in water.

“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,” he said.

A week later, doctors told Humphreys he had tested positive for the infection, which led him to fear he’d need to have his eye removed.

Humphreys used disinfectant eye drops for three weeks, which seemed to be working.

But by March 2018, he suddenly found himself completely blind in his right eye.

“I was driving to work and my vision completely went in my right eye,” he recalled. “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.”

He found himself housebound and depressed while doctors tried to work out the best course of action.

“I love my job but I physically couldn’t be outside the house,” he said.

“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.”

Six months after his initial diagnosis, doctors decided that the only option was to perform something called a corneal cross-linking.

It involves using ultraviolet light and vitamin B2 drops to stiffen the cornea.

While the procedure — performed in July last year — cleared up the infection, 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.”

In September, Humphreys had an amniotic membrane transplant to his right cornea at the Birmingham and West Midland Eye Centre, which was successful.

Humphreys’ mental health has suffered as a result of his trauma.

“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,’” he said.

After being referred to a counselor by the doctor, Humphreys has slowly come to terms with his condition.

He’s now working with the charity Fight for Sight, to raise awareness of the danger of wearing contact lenses in the shower or while 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.”

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.”

According to a poll by YouGov for the sight charity, 56 percent of contact lens wearers wear their contacts for longer than the recommended 12 hours a day, with 54 percent saying they’d swum or showered in them.

Forty-seven percent said they had slept with contacts in and 15 percent said they’d put their contacts in their mouth to “clean” or lubricate them.

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