Summer time is almost here and it's time to protect your eyes from annoying and sometimes serious infections. Doctors usually talk about infections in terms of:
- a) The parts of the eye that are affected and
- b) Their causes.
Here is a rundown on the types of infections and what to do if you or your family are affected.
Conjunctivitis is the most common type of eye infection, also known as 'pink eye.' In South India, it's known as 'Madras Eye'. Affecting the thin transparent layer of tissue lining the inner surface of the eyelid and the white part of the eye, conjunctivitis usually affects children. It is a contagious infection, starting in one and spreading to the other.
What causes it?
Causes for conjunctivitis can be viral, bacterial, or fungal. Infections can also be the consequence of allergies, foreign bodies and chemicals.
Bacteria such as staphylococcus aureus, haemophilus influenzae, streptococcus pneumoniae and pseudomonas aeruginosa account for 80% of conjunctivitis cases. Antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial conjunctivitis. Topic eye-drops and/or ointments are prescribed for bacterial conjunctivitis. Depending on the severity of the infection, it may clear up in a couple of days or last for as long as two weeks.
Extremely pathogenic bacteria such as Chlamydia trachomatis or Neisseria gonorrhoeae can cause mild corneal irritation to severe visual loss.
Herpes zoster & varicella zoster cause chickenpox, a reactivation of these viruses are known as shingles. A person with shingles may inadvertently touch his/her eye after touching a sore and cause ocular infection. Herpes simplex is the leading cause of acute retinal necrosis in the young and varicella zoster is the leading cause older people (over 50 years of age) as shingles affects this age group more.
A mild case of 'pink eye' may accompany common viral upper respiratory infections such as measles, the flu or the common cold as these viruses spread easily through sneezing and coughing.
Antibiotic eye-drops and ointments are ineffective against viral conjunctivitis. However, most cases are self-limiting, getting worse around the third to the fifth day and thereafter improving without medication. Usually, ophthalmologists prefer to prescribe supportive therapies to ease symptoms. Most supportive therapies include vasoconstrictors to whiten the eye, decongestants that reduce the swelling on the surface of the eye, and antihistamines to ease itching sensation in the eye. Treatments typically last the duration of the infection, i. e., one to two weeks, depending on its severity.
Eye allergies can also cause conjunctivitis. Allergens such as, pollen, animal dander and dust mites may trigger eye alleries leading to conjunctivitis. Itchy eyes often indicate allergic conjunctivitis. Antihistamine eye-drops control allergic reactions and are available as prescription or over- the- counter products.
- Eye pain,
- A feeling that something is in the eye,
- Eye(s) become more sensitive to light (photophobia),
- Watery discharge from the eye. It can be yellow, green or bloody.
- Redness of the eye or eyelids,
- Grey or white sore on the iris,
- fever with no other cause and/or
- Reduced or blurred vision.
Prevention & Treatment
- Washing hands and keeping your towels, napkins, pillowcases and make-up separate prevents eye- infections from spreading.
- Be careful not to touch your eyes if you or someone in your family has chickenpox, measles, mumps, flu, or the common cold.
- Encourage children to use disposable napkins to wipe runny noses and discourage them from using their clothes or bare hands to wipe noses.
- Clean the eye before applying medication, and whenever there is a discharge from the eye.
- If you wear contact lenses, avoid them for the duration of the infection.