Facing Blindness | Confessions of a Contact Lens Wearer

Corneal Ulcer - what its like

 Recently, I was faced with the possibility that I’d partially or completely lose the sight in my right eye after developing a corneal ulcer. Due to fantastic treatment and advice from everyone at the Royal Eye Hospital in Manchester, I thankfully won’t lose my sight, but it did get me thinking about the very real possibility of becoming partially blind.

Today I want to share a few thoughts on that very scary prospect, explain what a corneal ulcer feels like, and what the prognosis is…and perhaps urge you all to look after your eyes a bit better.

Since my mid-teens I’ve needed glasses, and started to wear contact lenses from being around 20 (so about 6 years). I wore them almost daily, and always for longer durations than are recommended. I was careless with my use – I wouldn’t always remove them when I was supposed to. Sometimes I would wear them whilst swimming, or even moisten one with water in an emergency. I’m even guilty of having slept in my contact lenses – for shame.

For 5 years this lax approach to eye health didn’t bother me – after all, I’d always been fine. Surprising how quickly all of that nonchalance turns to regret when you realise there is something seriously wrong with your eye – and that it was probably avoidable.

The feeling started with that distressing sensation that there’s a bit of sand in your eye – so because I didn’t have any saline handy, I rinsed my eye with water (this is not advisable). That didn’t help, so as soon as I got chance I bought some lubricating eye drops (I was abroad for the weekend) and persevered with the blurred vision, headaches, light sensitivity, constant streaming, throbbing, sore-to-touch face, swollen and red eyeball and feeling of panic that something was in my eye. Ibuprofen helped… a bit.

When I got home I noticed a little white bubble had formed on my iris, which I assumed was a foreign object – but try as I might, I couldn’t move it (note: I shouldn’t have tried). I called my  GP, and they referred me to an optician, who referred me immediately to the hospital. Immediately. As in, they told me it was a medical emergency. This was no regular thing-in-eye.

I flew through the admin process at the hospital – feeling more worried by the minute – and was eventually advised I’d developed a Corneal Ulcer – and that it was a good job I’d decided to seek medical advice.

A corneal ulcer is often caused when a lens, finger or other foreign object tears your cornea, allowing bacteria to enter your eye. This bacteria causes inflammation and irritation – kind of like a mouth ulcer (google it – I won’t gross you out here). Immediately, the eye feels gritty, light sensitive and vision becomes blurry. Ulcers caught quickly can be treated with drops and disappear without making much impact on vision. Ulcers left to linger can leave scarring on the eye, permanently affecting sight, and sometimes require a corneal transplant to correct your vision. So, it’s pretty serious.

That’s not the only reason you should be careful with your eye health, though. Contact lens wearers who aren’t careful can contract Acanthamoeba Keratitis, which  is a parasite which is actually even more nasty than it sounds.

It’s not just contact lens wearers who should beware too – have you ever shared mascara with your BFF? How about applying freshly sharpened eyeliner pencil to an inner lid line? Whenever you put a foreign object near your eye (especially a shared one), you’re risking introducing nasty bacteria to it. Let me tell you, it’s not one of those things you’re better off knowing from experience. Just take my word for it.

I spent 3 days facing the very real possibility that, if the medication I was given didn’t shrink the ulcer, I may need a corneal transplant, or face permanently having severely damaged vision. Naturally, I started to appreciate all the things I enjoy doing with my eyes – like boxing, or watching TV, reading, knitting, blogging, seeing my dog cock his head to listen to me, knowing what colour my tshirt is, not falling over stuff, driving, having depth perception… the list goes on. In those moments, I would have given anything to rewind the clock and change my eye-neglecting ways.

The good news for me is that my antibiotics started to work, and the ulcer began to shrink. It will still be a few weeks until my vision is back near normal, but I should regain my normal sight completely. I’m in no pain, and I’ve learned a valuable lesson about taking my eye health seriously.

If you’re a contact lens, false lash, mascara, eyeliner or eye drop user – please be careful and follow the guidelines on use for these products! Look after your eyes – you don’t appreciate them until you’re faced with losing them!



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