As we age, it’s easy to dismiss the occasional ache and pain as nothing more as an inevitable part of getting older. Worsening eyesight, too, is often a consequence of getting on in years. So, it may not have been all that surprising to doctors that an elderly British woman was complaining of having cataracts. When the time came for her to have surgery, though, medical professionals found that there was an unusual root to the problem…
And the story began when the woman in question attended Solihull Hospital, near the English city of Birmingham. She had checked in for what should have been a straightforward procedure. But as a 2017 report in the British Medical Journal would relay, the situation eventually became a lot more serious.
At first, though, the 67-year-old patient was prepared for routine surgery for problems related to cataracts that she had developed. She duly reported for examination and did not detail any discomfort or other underlying issues ahead of the operation. Little did she know what was about to be revealed, however.
And the unusual discovery came when doctors were performing peribulbar anesthesia – a procedure where anesthetic is injected into the eye to prevent pain during the operation. During the process, though, the attending team noticed something strange.
In particular, something had started to emerge from the woman’s eye – something that definitely shouldn’t have been there. The medics there would later be quoted as saying that this strange object appeared as a “bluish foreign body.”
And once the mass had been removed, the doctors inspected it. It was at that point that they found – rather astonishingly – that it was made up of 17 contact lenses. All 17 had been stuck together in one lump, bound by mucus and compacted in the eye. Naturally, this discovery shocked those on hand for the operation.
Indeed, the team – which included an ophthalmologist who has been practicing for more than 20 years – had never seen anything like it. That wasn’t the end of the matter, though; in fact, the situation continued to escalate as the doctors performed further checks.
That’s because the surgical team found a further ten separate lenses lost and hidden behind the patient’s eyeball. And while reflecting on the discovery, trainee ophthalmologist Rupal Morjaria admitted her surprise at how the build-up could have gone unnoticed. She told Optometry Today in 2017, “It would cause quite a lot of irritation while sitting there.”
When the doctors discovered the contacts, however, they immediately postponed the patient’s operation. In particular, they hoped to prevent further irritation to the area and protect it from possible infection. And, as it turned out, it would be two weeks before the medical professionals saw the woman again to check up on the situation.
As for the woman herself? Well, unsurprisingly, she would report that her eye had felt “much more comfortable” after having the foreign object removed. That was perhaps an understatement, given that she had been unwittingly harboring more than two years’ worth of lenses. But how did the problem even occur in the first place?
It seems that it was all down to the actions of the patient herself. She had been a regular user of contact lenses for 35 years but had failed to attend check-up appointments on her eyes. That way, opportunities to spot the issue sooner were missed.
The patient also didn’t report any symptoms or pain before her surgery. It was only after the discovery of the left-behind lenses, in fact, that she confessed to suffering from some discomfort. That still didn’t give the woman cause for concern, though; instead, she had simply attributed the pain to getting older.
And according to ophthalmologist Morjaria, the British woman’s experience should act as a cautionary tale to other contact lens users. Speaking to Optometry Today, the trainee explained, “In this day and age, when it is so easy to purchase contact lenses online, people become lax about having regular check-ups.”
Indeed, although this was an extremely rare case, issues with trapped, stuck or lost contact lenses do happen – especially to new users. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has claimed that between 40 and 90 percent of contacts wearers do not care for their lenses in the manner in which they have been instructed.
And the Association of Optometrists officer Henry Leonard confirmed to Optometry Today that improper use of contacts can result in needing to see a medical professional. “Patients do sometimes present with a contact lens stuck under their upper eyelid, particularly if they are new to contact lens wear or have problems with dexterity,” he said.
The CDC, meanwhile, has stated that as many as a million hospital and doctor visits take place in the U.S. each year as a result of contact lenses wearers not following the correct instructions. This, the CDC claims, costs the American healthcare system a staggering $175 million annually.
But it’s perhaps best to see a doctor upon such occasions, considering the complications that may arise as a result. Indeed, Morjaria has also emphasized just how negligent contact lens use can interfere with individuals’ overall eye health. She told Optometry Today, “Contact lenses are used all the time. But if they are not appropriately monitored, we see people with serious eye infections that can cause them to lose their sight.”
Furthermore, the CDC has warned, “Serious eye infections that can lead to blindness affect up to one out of every 500 contact lens users per year.” As a consequence, then, the institute has urged users to make sure that their hands are clean before inserting lenses.
The CDC also recommends visiting eye doctors at least once a year – not least to tackle any issues before they become serious ones. And, of course, professional ophthalmologists should also be able to discern whether any rogue contact lenses are in the eye.
So, it’s certainly worth contacts wearers making sure that they take proper care of how they use their lenses. After all, the huge potential consequences of any neglect don’t really bear thinking about…