Campaigning mother warns of contact lens infection rise
"It changed my life completely. I was very sick for a long time."
01 October, 2018
Irenie Ekkeshis receiving an award for her campaigning work
A CAMPAIGNING mother left blind in one eye after an infection is fighting to prevent others being struck down by a disease which experts at Moorfields Hospital say is on the increase in the South-east.
Irenie Ekkeshis, who set up a health think-tank in Finsbury, noticed light sensitivity and pain in her eye back in 2011.
Ms Ekkeshis, a “dailies” contact lens wearer, went to the hospital in Old Street, where she was diagnosed with Acanthamoeba keratitis.
“I was fortunate. I was diagnosed quickly. Other people get misdiagnosed. If you get diagnosed early you have a much better chance of getting a good outcome,” she said.
Acanthamoeba keratitis causes the front surface of the eye to become painful and inflamed. It is caused by a cyst-form- ing micro-organism mostly found in water.
Scientists at Moor- fields believe poor handling of contact lens and showering while wearing lenses increases the chances of contracting the disease.
Around a quarter of patients affected by the disease are left with less than 25 per cent of their vision or become blind.
Despite years of treatment and two cornea transplants the mother- of-one lost vision in her right eye.
She said: “It changed my life completely. I was very sick for a long time. For about three years I couldn’t work and was taking an awful lot of drugs. I was seeing doctors at Moorfields every week.”
The 39-year-old has set up a support group for sufferers at the hospital and has won numerous awards for her campaign- ing work.
“The most important thing to highlight is that contact lenses are currently supplied without any warnings to avoid water,” she said. “This would help prevent this infection. I would really like to stress that warnings should be provided and for some reason they are currently not.”
This week, Moorfields and University College London have released findings from a study which concluded there is a “new outbreak” of the infection in the South- east, with a threefold increase in cases since 2011.
Professor John Dart, lead researcher at Moor- fields, said: “This infection is still quite rare, usually affecting 2.5 in 100,000 contact lens users per year in South- east England, but it’s largely preventable.”
He added: “People who wear reusable contact lenses need to make sure they thoroughly wash and dry their hands before handling lenses, and avoid wearing them while swimming, face washing or bathing.
“Daily disposable lenses, which eliminate the need for contact lens cases or solutions, may be safer. We are currently analysing our data to establish the risk factors for these.”