Acanthamoeba Keratitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Acanthamoeba keratitis is a painful eye infection affecting the cornea, which can occur due to disruption of protective mechanism of the eye. It is important to know about the early symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis, its causes and treatment.

Human eyes are composed of sophisticated tissue and the front portion is exposed to the environmental factors, which increases the risk of several infections. While eye has normal mechanism, certain conditions like wearing contact lenses, can affect the normal protective mechanism. When these protective mechanisms are disrupted, due to the use of contact lenses, it can cause severe eye infection known as Acanthamoeba keratitis.

This infection mainly affects the cornea and it is caused by a single celled parasite called ameba. Exposure to contaminated water and corneal trauma can increase the risk of developing Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Sensitivity to light, watering, redness, and ring shaped corneal ulcer, pain in eyes and blurring of vision are the common symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis. Fortunately, treatment of Acanthamoeba keratitis is available, which can alleviate the symptoms and treat the infection. The treatment includes topical application of antibiotic eye drops and other drugs.

Let us understand Acanthamoeba keratitis in detail.

What is Acanthamoeba Keratitis?

What is Acanthamoeba Keratitis?

Acanthamoeba keratitis is a medical condition affecting the cornea of the eyes. It is a rare, serious and painful eye infection affecting the cornea, which is the transparent part of the eyes from where lights enter. This eye infection is mainly caused by the single celled ameba called Acanthamoeba. If the condition is left untreated, it can lead to loss of vision in some people. There are effective treatments for Acanthamoeba keratitis available that can help you recover from the infection safely.

What are the Causes of Acanthamoeba Keratitis?

The outer transparent portion of your eyeball is called cornea through which the light enters the inner portion of the eyes. The medical term describing inflammation of cornea is keratitis and it can occur due to a variety of factors. However, the most common cause of inflammation of cornea is infection.

Human eyes have protective mechanisms that restrict the microbes from entering the deeper tissues and cause infection. But, due to corneal trauma this protective mechanism disrupts and microbes easily enter the deeper tissues of your eyes and cause infection in the cornea of your eyes. People wearing contact lenses are at great risk of infection and a common cause of Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Injury to the eyes is also one of the common causes of Acanthamoeba keratitis. Contact lenses may also cause minor injury to the eyeballs and prolonged use of contact lenses can injure the eyes, which can cause infection in eyes. But, the risk of having infection due to contact lens is less in people who are cautious about the usages of lenses.

Contaminated water from natural sources like lakes and rivers are not sterile and swimming in such waters is a common cause of Acanthamoeba keratitis. The tiny parasites called ameba can easily reach your eyes to cause infection through this contaminated water.

Although there are a variety of species of ameba, but the commonly distributed species in the environment around us is Acanthamoeba. They are primarily found in treated and natural water, soils, air and dust. So, avoiding contact with such microbes is inevitable.

Other possible causes of Acanthamoeba keratitis include some risk factors like wearing non-disposable lenses, using homemade solutions to clean and store the lenses and wearing lenses while swimming. As wearing contact lenses is the commonest Acanthamoeba keratitis, improper use or unhygienic use and storage of lenses increases the risk of developing symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Early Symptoms of Acanthamoeba Keratitis

Recognizing the symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis is very crucial in order to get the right treatment for the disorder. However, the symptoms of this eye infection are not different from other superficial eye infections like conjunctivitis. So, it is necessary for contact lens wearers to recognize the symptoms carefully to seek right medical treatments for the infection. This eye infection is very serious and getting right treatment for Acanthamoeba keratitis is necessary to prevent further complications like loss of vision.

Some of the common and early symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis include:

  • Redness of eyes is a common symptom of Acanthamoeba keratitis. It usually lasts for more than a day after removing contact lens
  • Rough sensations of eye like you have foreign elements on the surface of eyes
  • Severe pain that lasts for many days is also another symptom of Acanthamoeba keratitis.
  • Other common symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis include sensitivity to light, excessive watering of eyes, blurring of vision and corneal ulceration.

If the symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis are left untreated, it can affect vision, hence it is essential to seek medical opinion.

Treatment of Acanthamoeba Keratitis

Treatment of Acanthamoeba keratitis usually varies depending upon the severity of the eye infection. Diagnosing the condition at an early stage is necessary for receiving effective and right medical treatment and to prevent further complications.

The medical treatment of Acanthamoeba keratitis includes usage of anti-microbial eye drops. The topical antimicrobials can restrict the ameba cysts from causing infection in eyes and treat Acanthamoeba keratitis. Using over-the-counter drugs can make the condition worse by damaging the corneal tissue and are best avoided unless advised. The infection of eyes is a serious issue and must be treated by right professionals, so it is important to seek medical advice for treatment of Acanthamoeba keratitis.

In some cases, where the cornea is getting damaged, surgical treatment for Acanthamoeba keratitis may be required. Surgery is the last resort, especially in the cases of corneal ulceration where loss of vision is possible. The surgical treatment involves replacement of the cornea through corneal transplant method.

Prevention of Acanthamoeba Keratitis

With proper understanding it is possible to prevent the symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis. Since contact lens wearers are at greater risk of developing such infection, they need to be aware about prevention of Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Here are few simple tips to prevent the eye infection and Acanthamoeba keratitis.

  • Prefer using good quality commercially available lens solution to clean and store the lenses after use. Homemade solutions can be contaminated and they may not be effective in preventing microbes from reaching your eyes through these lenses. This is a very important part of prevention of Acanthamoeba keratitis.
  • To prevent eye infections and Acanthamoeba keratitis, it is necessary to wash your hands always while inserting and removing the lenses from your eyes. Prefer using antiseptic soap to wash your hands. Hand sanitizer may be useful when water is not available.
  • Always try to use disposal lenses so that you can discard it after its expiry, which can help in prevention of Acanthamoeba keratitis. Non-disposal lens wearers are at high risk of having such eye infection. These lenses get contaminated easily over prolonged period of time and can be one of the causes of Acanthamoeba keratitis in lens users.
  • Store the lenses properly into the contact lens storage case and pour sufficient amount of suitable solution to keep the lens safe and clean. Hygienic storing of lenses is equally important in prevention of Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Avoid sharing your contact lens with other, whether they are over-the-counter cosmetic color lenses or prescription lenses. Avoid wearing contact lenses when you are in swimming pool even if the water is chlorinated. The microbes and amoeba cysts are very active and can’t be destroyed using common water treatment techniques. These measures can help in prevention of Acanthamoeba keratitis and help protect your eyes.

See your eye care practitioner regularly. Regular follow-up to check your vision and other aspects of the eye and their function can help to identify any eye infection at an early stage. Diagnosing Acanthamoeba keratitis and initiating early treatment is also important to prevent further damage due to Acanthamoeba keratitis.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 19, 2022

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