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Woman had 23 contact lenses stuck under her eyelid, ophthalmologist says

The patient, who is in her 70s, has been wearing contact lenses for 30 years.
/ Source: TODAY

A woman who felt like there was “something in her eye” actually had 23 daily disposable contact lenses stuck deep underneath her eyelid, her ophthalmologist reported.

Dr. Katerina Kurteeva of California Eye Associates in Newport Beach, California, was shocked to discover the clump of contacts and “got to deliver” them last month in a case she documented on her Instagram page.

“I was just amazed myself. I was like, this is kind of crazy. I’ve never seen this before,” Kurteeva told TODAY. “All the contacts were hidden underneath the upper lid in a pancake stack, so to speak.”

The patient, who is in her 70s and has asked to remain anonymous, has been wearing contact lenses for 30 years, the doctor said. She came to see Kurteeva on Sept. 12 after complaining about the sensation of a foreign body in her right eye and also noticing mucus in that eye. She’d been to the practice before, but it was the first time Kurteeva met her after acquiring the office last year. The woman had been skipping her regular visits for fear of catching COVID-19.

Kurteeva first checked her eye to rule out a corneal ulcer or conjunctivitis. She also looked for an eyelash, piece of mascara, pet hair or other common object that could be causing the foreign body sensation, but didn’t see anything on her right cornea at all. She did notice a mucus discharge.

The woman said that when she lifted her eyelid, she saw something dark sitting there, but couldn’t get it out, so Kurteeva inverted her eyelid with her fingers and looked. But again, the doctor didn’t find anything.

That’s when the ophthalmologist used a lid speculum, a wire instrument to keep the woman’s eyelids open and far apart, which allowed her hands to be free to do a more extensive examination. She also administered an anesthetic drop with a yellow stain in it. As she looked deeper under the eyelid, she saw the first couple of contacts stuck together. She used a cotton swab to pull them out, but it was just the tip of the blob.

Kurteeva asked an assistant to take photos and a video of what happened next as she kept tugging on the contacts with the cotton swab.

“It was literally like a deck of cards,” Kurteeva recalled. “It just kind of unraveled and formed a little chain link on her lid. As I’m doing it, I’m telling her, ‘I think I removed more than 10.’ And they just kept on coming and coming.”

There were 23 contacts in that eye in all, the doctor discovered after carefully separating them with jeweler forceps. She washed out the patient’s eye, but fortunately the woman didn’t have an infection — just mild irritation that was treated with anti-inflammatory drops — and is doing fine, Kurteeva said.

How is it possible for this to happen?

This is actually not the most extreme case. In 2017, British doctors found 27 contact lenses in a 67-year-old woman’s eye who thought dry eye and aging caused her irritation, Optometry Today reported. She had been wearing monthly disposable contact lenses for 35 years. The case was documented in The BMJ.

“Having two contacts in one eye is surprisingly common; having three or more is pretty extraordinary,” Dr. Jeff Pettey, an ophthalmologist in Salt Lake City, Utah, told the American Academy of Ophthalmology about the 2017 case.

Kurteeva’s patient told her she had no idea how this happened, but the doctor had some theories. The woman probably thought she removed the lenses by sliding them off to the side, but actually didn’t take them out and they just kept hiding under the upper lid, she said.

The eyelid pocket, which is called a fornix, is a dead end — “nothing can ever travel to the back of your eye without retrieval, it’s not like it’s going to go to your brain,” Kurteeva noted.

In an older patient, the fornix becomes very deep, which is related to aging changes of the eye and the face, and the way the orbit atrophies, leading to sunken eyes, she said. The contact lenses were tucked away so deep and so far away from the cornea, the most sensitive part of the eye, that the woman didn’t feel the clump — until it became very big.

People who wear contacts for decades lose some of their corneal sensitivity, so that might be another reason she didn’t feel the blob, she added.

The woman “is really married to wearing contacts” and wants to keep using them, Kurteeva said. She saw the patient recently and reported she is doing well.

The case is a good reminder to be mindful about contact lens wearing. Always wash your hands before handling lenses, and if you wear daily contacts, tie your eye care to daily dental care — remove your contacts when you brush your teeth, that way you’ll never forget, Kurteeva said.