Viral eye infections can spread in any season, but are especially active during the summers. An infection occurs when the virus invades a part of the eyeball or surrounding area, including the clear front surface of the eye (cornea) or the thin, moist membrane line of the outer and inner eyelids (conjunctiva). Although there are no particular reasons for the cause, it is imperative to see an eye specialist each time you catch an infection.
“Germs are very active in the summer if it does not rain and the virus spreads quickly if one does not take proper care of hygiene,” says Dr Tanveer Chaudhry, head of ophthalmology at Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi. The infection can affect either one eye or both, and though it does not affect eyesight, it can put a strain on the infected eye, he adds.
Ophthalmic consultant at Shahzad Eye Hospital Dr Haris Shahzad says allergies are triggered because the eye membrane becomes very sensitive, making the eye vulnerable to attack from germs. “Cases of viral eye infections are reported from areas where blasts and firing incidents are frequent. The reason is that gunpowder and explosive material spread in the environment,” he explains. Dr Shahzad says too much dust in the house or the presence of pets can also be a cause for eye infections, which are often very contagious.
Dos and Don’ts
Dr Chaudhry says the use of dark glasses during an eye infection does not help limit its spread. “Wearing dark glasses only helps the patient reduce eyestrain in bright conditions since the eye becomes sensitive to light when infected,” adds Dr Shahzad.
Use of rosewater can aggravate the virus since the availability of pure rosewater is rare. "It can be very dangerous to the eye," says Dr Shahzad. Using steroids can provide temporary relief, but can result in severe complications, he adds. Steroids are anti-inflammatory, but can worsen some conditions.
Viral eye infections are very common, but people often panic and try self-medication. Medicines can provide temporary relief but have negative effects in the long run. Do not use any eye drops before consulting a doctor, warns Dr Shahzad. When you catch an infection, wash your eyes with boiled water as soon as possible as “the virus can affect eyesight if it enters the eye,” he says. “If the infection is untreated, it can leave scars or cause other problems. We only offer supporting treatment as the virus takes 10 to 12 days to go away," he adds.
Since viral infections are contagious, the person infected should take special care of personal hygiene and avoid close contact, including shaking hands, with others. Moreover, they should not share towels or handkerchiefs with family members, while married couples should sleep separately. Also avoid touching and rubbing the eyes and teach children to not touch their eyes without washing their hands first.
Eye strain and pain
Ishrat Ansari works at The Express Tribune Karachi desk. She tweets @Ishrat_ansari
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 28th, 2015.