Laura Hawkins, 24, woke up one day while traveling around Australia in “excruciating” pain.
She couldn’t open her right eye, despite using eye drops from the pharmacy the day before to treat what she thought was a common conjunctivitis.
“I have someone at the hostel who drives me straight to the emergency room because I just knew something was wrong,” said Laura, who began her adventure in Australia three months ago.
“I’ve had conjunctivitis before and it definitely wasn’t it.
“I woke up and physically couldn’t open my eye.
“Even a tiny bit of light getting into my eye would feel like a burning or stabbing pain.
“Over the day before my eye had gotten more swollen and closed and sticky which I knew was not good and the morning after I couldn’t open my eye at all so I couldn’t tell if I could see it or Not.’
At the hospital, Laura was sent straight to an optimist, who discovered that Laura had a corneal ulcer that could have left her blind if left untreated.
And the reason for this? Laura’s dirty makeup bag.
Laura started wearing glasses when she was 10 and switched to contact lenses when she was 16.
She had been using two-week disposable contact lenses, which she took out at bedtime, soaked in saline solution overnight, and put them back in in the morning.
The contact lenses were supposed to last two weeks, but despite Laura’s careful handling, one lens appears to have picked up bacteria from the makeup bag they were kept in.
After a series of strong painkillers and eye drops, doctors scraped bacterial cells out of Laura’s eye to test.
They believe the bacterial infection was picked up from her make-up bag, where the contact lens case was kept every night during her time in Australia.
Laura was in the hospital for over a week and then had to recover at a friend’s house for almost a month.
Despite three canceled flights due to the pandemic, Laura was finally able to return home to her family on the plane on March 26 with a giant eye patch over her eye.
Over a year after her frightening experience, Laura now has permanent scars in her right eye and has just been referred to the NHS for a cornea transplant.
Laura, who works as a personal trainer, said: ‘I left really bad scars as they were very deep and affected my vision.
“The doctors said wait a year and see if the vision is better but if not I can have a cornea transplant so I’m being referred for that now.
“My peripheral vision and right vision in the center of my right eye is now like there’s a white sheet over it.
“I can’t see really well with this eye, and especially when it’s night and there are bright lights, I just can’t see. I’ve tried driving at night and I just can’t do it now.
“When I look in the mirror I can see that from my pupil to the outer color of my iris there is something like a white patch. I can see the scars in photos too.
“I had worn contacts before that for a couple of years and never had any problems, but I didn’t know the risk of wearing them either.
“I always cleaned my hands before and after putting in my lenses and used the saline solution as it should.
“Doctors think it happened that either I scratched my eye while removing the lenses or the contact lens itself was contaminated.
“I had taken the lenses out the night before and everything seemed normal. I definitely don’t think I scratched my eye, it didn’t hurt at all when I took out the lenses.
“I didn’t wear contact lenses for over half a year after this happened, I just stuck to glasses, I didn’t want to put anything near my eye.
“I’ve been dabbling in contact lenses ever since and while it’s not common people do get infections from their contact lenses so I think there should be more warning if you get them on your eye test as this was so bad.
“Nobody warned me what could happen – they told me the importance of cleaning my hands and using the saline, which I always did, but they never said it could happen.”
Specsaver’s Clinical Services Director, Giles Edmonds, said: “It is important that good hygiene is practiced at all times when handling contact lenses. You wouldn’t put anything dirty in your mouth, so why would you do the same with your eyes?
“Clean, dry hands should always be used when inserting and removing lenses and lenses should always be rubbed, rinsed and stored in the recommended solution.
“You also need to be careful about where you store your lens case as it can easily pick up bacteria around it, which can lead to red eyes, irritation or even infection.
“For example, if you keep your contact lenses in a cosmetic pouch, which is a breeding ground for bacteria, always wash your hands after opening the container and before handling your contact lenses.
“Don’t forget to clean your case regularly as well, as recommended by your optician.
“To keep your eyes healthy, you should also put on your contact lenses before you put on makeup.
“Contact lens wearers should not use tap water or any other water on their lenses or cases, and should remove the lenses before showering or swimming to also reduce the risk of getting bacteria in the eye.”
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