A man has been left blind in one eye from a rare infection – triggered by his contact lenses.
Retired engineer Stephen Souter, 63, has suffered ‘indescribable’ pain from the disease which has slowly destroyed his cornea.
The cornea – the clear ‘window’ at the front of the eye – is one of our most sensitive organs, with the highest density of pain receptors in the body.
Stephen has been diagnosed with Acanthamoeba Keratitis, an infection caused by a microscopic organism found in water both outdoors and in our homes.
Most varieties of the organism are harmless but some can cause a serious eye disease if they infect the cornea.
The vast majority of victims – some 85 per cent – are people who wear contact lenses where poor lens hygiene increases the risk.
Around 1 in 50,000 contact lens wearers in the UK are affected each year by the condition but only a minority of them lose their sight.
Stephen, from Braunton, Devon, said: “It’s been an absolute nightmare from start to finish.
“It’s affected everything – my work, my social life.”
Stephen first noticed a problem last January when a redness developed in his eye and he was in so much pain he was kept awake all night.
He went to his GP the following day who referred him to an eye clinic, thinking it was glaucoma as his father had suffered from the disease.
The hospital diagnosed an eye infection and prescribed eye drops but the pain increased.
Stephen went back to his GP weeks later and was referred back to the eye clinic in nearby Barnstaple but he was misdiagnosed with herpes.
He was prescribed more eye drops and asked to return a week later but the pain got even worse and a small circle then appeared on the surface of his eye.
The eye clinic eventually diagnosed AK – which is notoriously difficult to spot in its early stages – and Stephen still had some blurred vision at that stage.
In March after being told there were no hospital beds available, his wife Tess – a nurse – offered to treat him at home with the extremely potent eye drops.
At one point she was putting them into his eye every 30 minutes for 48 hours.
Stephen recalled: “We had no sleep. That was a nightmare – every time she came up the stairs she had to shine a light in my eye and the pain was indescribable.”
He was then referred to Exeter Hospital where a specialist prescribed slow release morphine tablets, which he has been taking since April.
Stephen is also using two types of eye drops – Polyhexanide, which he applies every two hours and Brolene, just before bed.
The drops are used to keep the pressure off the eye because if it gets too high, his eye could burst.
But the sight in his left eye disappeared completely in the summer.
Stephen now faces another year of partial sight and treatment with the drops to kill off the infection before he is eligible for a cornea transplant.
“The trouble is, I get depressed with it. It drags you down because I’m on morphine as well which is a painkiller so all in all, it’s affected my whole life because I have not got sight in one eye. So I’m walking around with one eye and they don’t even guarantee that I’ll get it back.”
His life has been halted too – and his wife has to help him do basic things.
“I can drive but only in the night and I don’t drive long distances – my wife drives me. I only drive round the village.
“I can work but it has an influence on my work and what I do. Overall, it’s had a massive effect on my life, I’m just hoping to see the end of it.”
Wife Tess, 61, said: “It has been a neverending, living nightmare, which came totally out of the blue.
“Now he has no confidence – I drive us everywhere. We are happy with each other’s company but it’s turned our life upside down.”
Stephen Souter caught the infection from daily disposable contact lenses, which he had been using for around three years.
He wore them two or three times a week to play golf and other sports, and also to help him see better while working.
“They were daily disposables which I used as daily disposables,” he said.
“You’re not supposed to swim, shower or sleep wearing them, and I did none of those things.
“Apparently you can pick this bug up from any water. There is a two million to one chance, and I was the unlucky one.
“I normally used them for golf and other sports. Otherwise, I wore my glasses. I had never experienced any pain or discomfort whatsoever.
“My routine was to wash my hands before putting the contacts in and washing my hands again before taking them out.
“They are quite easy to put in and take out when you get the hang of it, but you have to make sure your hands are clean. I did it religiously.”
Stephen said he cannot pinpoint a particular moment when he might have picked up the infection.
He said: “I hadn’t been abroad or done anything out of the ordinary. I can’t think of anything which might have caused it.
“I just suddenly had this pain in my eye. I thought it was a normal infection so I stopped using them, but obviously it wasn’t.
“I don’t use them at all now.
“I think people need to be more aware of the dangers of contact lenses. There should be a warning on the box, or when you have them fitted.
“I definitely wasn’t made aware, and people I have spoken to have no idea either.
“I would certainly warn anyone who is thinking of using contact lenses to consider the risks because it has completely ruined my life.”