Sunday, October 02, 2011

My foe in the past year: Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (and a very bad health care experience) 2/114

Now that my eyes feel normal and healthy again, I can write about this without annoying y'all with a whiny tone!

It all started during orientation last year (in August). I couldn't put my contacts on, particularly on my right eye, without feeling that there were "grains of sand" or some other bothersome particles that made me blink non-stop. My eye also itched like crazy and some morning it was a bit swollen and sticky. Sometimes I also felt that my eyeball was moving on its own. My son had had regular conjunctivitis (commonly called "pink eye") a few months earlier, so I quit wearing contacts for a few days and used his drops (I know... one shouldn't do that). It didn't help too much...

Then, I started freaking out, thinking that maybe I had that problem (since I have this pesky virus on my lips) and I used some other eye drops that my mom had been prescribed for a sudden pain in her eye months before too. I know... very bad as well, but it was just for a few days.

I felt the discomfort on and off, but still managed to wear my contacts to yoga and to teach my classes, but only barely. One morning, while driving to yoga class my eye felt so bad that I had to take my right contacts off in the middle of the highway (while driving) because it was impossible to see otherwise! That was the last straw and I finally decided to see the doctor, but I made a mistake... I didn't go to an optometrist, I went to the eye doctor (ophthalmologist) practice where I'd taken my youngest son earlier (he has amblyopia, or lazy eye, because we didn't find out he had very poor eyesight in his left eye until May last year when he was 6).

The doctor examined me in late November, barely told me what I had (I wasn't able to memorize the diagnosis, it is a mouthful, after all) and prescribed eye drops for three weeks (and told me not to wear my contacts). He didn't tell me that the drops were a corticosteroid, which should not be used for more than a few weeks.

In my return visit with the doctor, I paid close attention to the name of the condition (GPC: Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis) and also, very concerned, I asked the doctor whether the condition had any relationship to the fact that I'd been wearing contact lenses for 20+ years and whether I was becoming intolerant of the contacts. He said that no, it had nothing to do with contacts (BIG! FAT! LIE!) and when I talked to him about my son having to wear a patch and whether there was any therapy that could help to recover the vision in his left eye he also said that patching was the only way, that therapies didn't work (according to other sources, another lie!).

When I came home I googled GPC and I immediately found out that this condition is often 100% percent related to contacts (OR, alternately, to hay fever & allergies). This is the first sentence on the NIH (National Institutes of Health) website of the American Ophthalmological Society that talks about GPC:
"Giant papillary conjunctivitis is a syndrome found frequently as a complication of contact lenses."
Isn't it outrageous that this doctor (an older man, white haired, probably one of the senior members of their practice) would simply "lie" to a patient so blatantly like that? The funny thing was that my mom mentioned the story to her new ophthalmologist in Brazil and he started to defend the doctor here in the U.S. saying that he hadn't lied, that GPC was an intolerance to the contact lenses' solutions, not the lens itself... whatever! In any case it IS totally related to contact lens us. The scariest part was what this doctor said next to my mom: that the only way to get rid of GPC -- but just maybe! -- would be not to wear contacts for three months and, if it didn't help, for a whole year -- but that there was no guarantee of it not coming back again, just a good chance that the eye would heal. I started freaking out! And thinking that I really, really needed eye-surgery (LASIK).

The truth is that it became unbearable to wear my contacts and I only tried to put them on to go to yoga class, but I couple of times I had to take them off and do yoga nearly blindly... :( I had to wear my (older) glasses constantly now and that made me cranky, unhappy and really upset! I really don't like wearing glasses (I suppose that this is an understatement) and I just didn't feel like myself in them. In spite of that, I knew that the condition was serious and so I wore glasses for months. It was only later in the summer that I began to try to wear my contacts again for a few hours each day. I wore them for a few days in a row before going to a (highly recommended by a friend) optometrist.

My eyes were declared healthy and she explained to me that GPC is definitely related to contact lens use and that she had actually even had it in the past (I wonder why she herself didn't get LASIK -- that is a little unsettling for me). In fact, after I began talking to friends and acquaintances about GPC I found out several other people who have had it and recovered. I think that my problem was aggravated by the fact that it took me so long to go to a doctor and because I kept wearing my contacts in spite of the discomfort.

I am glad that my eyes are fine, but terrified that they'll get GPC again! Let's see what will happen, I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, I still need to decide whether to order the daily use contacts I sampled. They're awesome, but much more expensive than the biweekly/monthly ones... sigh...


kate said...

Bummer! I'm glad it has cleared up, though. I had to stop wearing contacts several years ago because my eyes kept getting really irritated (though it wasn't as severe as what you seem to have experienced.) I hope it doesn't come back for you, but you could also look into finding some attractive glasses you like and wouldn't mind wearing to give your eyes a rest occasionally. But yeah, thumbs down on the doctor!

Kristina Springer said...

Did it ever come back?