On a sunny day, Taylor Bisciotti walked out of a local mall and felt sharp pain in her left eye. It felt like dozens of needles were being stabbed into her eyeball. Even blinking hurt. Over the years, she had suffered from chronic pink eye, but this felt different.
“I knew something was off,” Bisciotti, 27, of Beverly Hills, California, told TODAY. “I had never experienced pain that was as excruciating.”
In October 2017, she visited an eye doctor who referred her to a corneal specialist, Dr Batool Jafri. Soon Bisciotti learned that everything she had been told about her eye was wrong. She didn’t have pink eye: She had an ulcer, an open sore, on the cornea of her left eye.
“It was really scary. I still worry about it constantly,” she said.
Not spotting the signs
Bisciotti’s eye problems first started in college when she suffered from what she was told was pink eye. Every few months she’d experience the same thing: Her eye would become bloodshot, irritated, swollen and sometimes have pus oozing from it. Every time it happened, she visited an urgent care clinic where they’d treat her. She’d improve, but she always wondered why it kept happening.
“It didn’t really make sense to me,” Bisciotti said.
It's not uncommon for people with an ulcer to mistake their red, itchy eyes for pink eye or an infection because symptoms can seem similar.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, symptoms of corneal ulcers include:
- Pain or soreness of the eye
- The feeling of having something in your eye
- Pus or other discharge
- Reduced or blurred vision
- Swelling of the eyelids
- A white or gray spot on your cornea that you may or may not be able to see
If people notice any of these symptoms they should immediately stop wearing their contact lenses.
“People just think maybe they have an allergy. Contact lens wearers with a red eye really need to see an ophthalmologist,” Jafri, the assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of California, Los Angeles, told TODAY.
From being misdiagnosed for so long, Bisciotti had numerous scars on her cornea. She said Jafri worried that if they did not contain the ulcer she would develop a scar that could completely cover her cornea and Bisciotti could lose her vision entirely in her left eye. Bisciotti, an NFL Network anchor and reporter, needed to see for her job.
“I was scared that I wasn’t going to be able to read the teleprompter at work,” she explained.
Preventing corneal ulcers
They can’t be sure how the ulcer first started, but Bisciotti admits she wasn’t always smart about her contact lenses.
“There would be random nights where I would sleep with my contacts in or not clean them out as well as I should have,” she said.
Jafri frequently sees people who improperly wear their contacts and develop corneal ulcers.
“People get a little too comfortable and start to ignore basic things and they get into trouble,” she said.
Too often people with contacts wear them longer than they should, keeping daily contacts in for multiple days or weekly lenses in for a month.
“Any time you are extending the use of this device for more than what the manufacturer recommends you are risking colonizing the eye with bacteria,” Jafri explained.
While overusing contacts poses a specific risk to eye health, other common behaviors can also lead to ulcers.
“One of the biggies is actually sleeping in contact lenses or showering or swimming in them,” Jafri said. “Sleeping in your contact lenses increases your risk of infection by almost 10 fold.”
Experts recommend that contact lens wearers follow best practices, including:
- Using contacts only for length of time they’re designed for: Dailies only for a day, etc.
- Never swimming or showering in them
- Never using tap water to clean contacts
- Avoiding sleeping in them
- Never re-using contact lens fluid
“Contact lens-related ulcers are definitely preventable,” Jafri said.
Bisciotti remains diligent about contact lens care as she can only wear one in her right eye. She feels terrified that something will happen to that eye and she’ll be unable to drive or read the teleprompter.
Her left eye has scars, and she can't wear a contact in it. She can still see, but her vision is blurry.
“The right eye is carrying the load for both,” she said. “I have a constant twitch.”
She shared her story because she hopes that others learn the importance of good contact lens habits.
“I went all through college brushing it aside,” she said. “The things you can do to prevent yourself from having this problem are pretty simple.”