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Eye Flu (Conjunctivitis): Causes, Symptoms, Preventions, Treatments, & Home Remedies

By Dr. Ashok Kumar Jhingan in ENT & Cochlear Implant

Feb 08 , 2023 | 6 min read

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Eye flu, also known as conjunctivitis or pink eye, is a common eye condition characterised by inflammation of the thin transparent layer covering the white part of the eye and lining the inner surface of the eyelids. This condition is called "eye flu" due to its similarity to symptoms experienced during common flu, such as redness, irritation, and discharge from the eyes.

Causes of Eye Flu

  • Viral Infections:The primary cause of eye flu, or viral conjunctivitis, is viral infections, most commonly due to adenoviruses. These viruses are highly contagious.
  • Bacterial Infections:Bacterial conjunctivitis is another potential cause of eye flu. Bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, or Haemophilus influenzae can infect the conjunctiva, leading to redness, discharge, and discomfort.
  • Allergies and Irritants:Eye flu-like symptoms can be triggered by allergies to substances like pollen, pet dander, dust mites, or certain chemicals. Additionally, exposure to irritants like smoke, pollution, or chlorine in swimming pools can cause conjunctival inflammation and discomfort.
  • Other Causes:Less common causes of eye flu include fungal infections, parasitic infestations, and underlying medical conditions like dry eyes or autoimmune disorders. Contact lens wearers may also experience a form of eye flu known as contact lens-induced conjunctivitis if proper hygiene and lens care practices are not followed.
Understanding the underlying cause of eye flu is essential for appropriate treatment and management, as different causes may require different approaches to alleviate symptoms and prevent further spread of the infection.

Symptoms of Eye Flu

Eye flu, or viral conjunctivitis, manifests through various distinct symptoms, which may affect one or both eyes. Common signs of eye flu include:
  • Redness and Inflammation:The conjunctiva becomes inflamed due to a viral or bacterial infection, leading to noticeable redness in the white part of the eye (sclera).
  • Watery Eyes:Excessive tearing or increased production of tears is a typical response to the irritation caused by the infection.
  • Itching and Irritation:The infected eye may experience itching and general discomfort, making it tempting to rub or scratch, although this should be avoided to prevent further spread.
  • Gritty Sensation:Affected individuals may feel as if there's sand or grit in their eyes, resulting in a sensation of foreign body presence.
  • Discharge from the Eyes:Eye flu may cause a sticky or watery discharge, especially after waking up in the morning, which can cause the eyelids to stick together.
It is important to note that wearing sunglasses does not prevent the spread of infection. It is false because eye flu does not spread due to eye contact with an infected person. In fact, sunglasses are used to prevent light sensitivity thus providing comfort.

Prevention of Eye Flu

Hygiene Practices

  • Handwashing:Regular and thorough handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds helps prevent the transmission of viruses and bacteria responsible for eye flu.
  • Avoiding Touching Eyes:Minimise the risk of infection by refraining from touching or rubbing the eyes, as it can introduce harmful microorganisms and allergens.

Environmental Precautions

  • Avoiding Irritants and Allergens:Limit exposure to potential irritants like smoke, dust, pollen, and pet dander to reduce the likelihood of conjunctival inflammation.
  • Avoiding Crowded Places During Outbreaks:During eye flu outbreaks, avoid crowded places where the infection can spread easily.
  • Cleaning and Disinfecting Shared Surfaces:Frequently disinfect commonly touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, phones, and computer keyboards, to prevent the transmission of viruses and bacteria.
  • Protection in High-Risk Settings (e.g.; swimming pools):Take necessary precautions, such as wearing goggles, to protect the eyes from potential contaminants in high-risk environments like swimming pools.

Treatments for Eye Flu

While eye flu often resolves on its own, specific treatments can help manage symptoms and speed up recovery.

Diagnosis by Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare professionals (ophthalmologists) can diagnose eye flu by examining the eyes, reviewing symptoms, and performing tests to confirm the presence of viral conjunctivitis.

Medicines for Eye Flu

Medications for eye flu aim to alleviate symptoms and treat secondary infections if present. Antiviral medications target the virus, while antibiotics treat bacterial conjunctivitis. Types of Eye Flu Medicine
  • Antiviral Medications:These drugs inhibit virus replication, reducing the severity and duration of viral conjunctivitis. Common examples include ganciclovir and trifluridine.
  • Antibiotic Medications:Effective against bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotics target and eliminate bacteria. Commonly prescribed options include moxifloxacin, tobramycin, bacitracin, and gentamicin.

Eye Drops and Ointments

Eye drops and ointments deliver medications directly to the affected area, providing relief from symptoms and aiding in the healing process.

Follow-up Care and Management

After receiving treatment, proper follow-up care and management are essential. Patients should adhere to prescribed medication schedules, practice good eye hygiene, and attend follow-up appointments as directed by healthcare professionals to ensure a successful recovery and minimise the risk of reinfection.

Home Remedies for Eye Flu Infection: Overview

While eye flu, or viral conjunctivitis, is generally a self-limiting condition that resolves on its own, certain home remedies can provide relief from symptoms and promote faster healing.
  • Warm Compresses:Applying a warm compress to the affected eye can help soothe irritation, reduce redness, and alleviate discomfort by promoting blood circulation in the area.
  • Cold Compresses:Cold compresses can help reduce swelling and relieve itching in the eyes, providing a soothing effect on inflamed conjunctiva.
  • Saline Solution Rinse:Gently rinsing the eyes with a homemade saline solution (a mixture of salt and water) can help cleanse the eyes, removing discharge and reducing bacterial load.
  • Herbal Eye Drops:Some herbal eye drops, like chamomile or calendula extracts, may have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, providing relief from eye flu symptoms.

Complications and Risks of Eye Flu: Overview

While eye flu, or viral conjunctivitis, is typically a self-limiting condition, certain complications and risks can arise if not managed appropriately.
  • Impact on Vision:Severe cases of eye flu may cause temporary blurring or decreased vision due to the inflammation of the conjunctiva and surrounding tissues.
  • Spreading of Infection:Eye flu is highly contagious and can spread easily from person to person through direct or indirect contact, especially in crowded places or close quarters.
  • Corneal Inflammation: In some cases, the infection can spread to the cornea, causing keratitis, a condition that can lead to corneal ulcers and potential vision impairment if left untreated.

Conclusion

Eye flu, or viral conjunctivitis, is a common eye infection that can cause discomfort and irritation. While most cases resolve on their own, prompt diagnosis by healthcareprofessionals and appropriate management is crucial.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I Get Eye Flu From Sitting Near Someone with It?

Yes, eye flu is highly contagious, and you can contract it by being in close proximity to an infected person.

2. Can Eye Flu Develop From A Common Cold Or Respiratory Infection?

Yes, eye flu can be associated with a common cold or respiratory infection. Adenoviruses, which are responsible for some cases of viral conjunctivitis, are part of the same family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses like the common cold or flu.

3. Does Using Contact Lenses Cause Eye Flu?

Contact lens wearers may have a higher risk of developing eye flu if proper hygiene and lens care practices are not followed. Bacteria and viruses can accumulate on contact lenses, increasing the chances of infection if the lenses are not cleaned and disinfected properly.

4. Can Eye Flu Affect Both Eyes At The Same Time?

Yes, eye flu can affect both eyes simultaneously. It often starts in one eye and can easily spread to the other due to the contagious nature of the infection.

5. How Long Does Eye Flu Last On Average?

The duration of eye flu varies, but it typically lasts for about one to two weeks. Most cases improve without specific treatment, while severe or persistent cases may require medical attention and take longer to resolve.

6. Can Eye Flu Resolve On Its Own Without Treatment?

Yes, in many cases, eye flu resolves on its own without specific treatment. Proper home care, including warm compresses, hygiene practices, and avoiding touching the eyes, can help relieve symptoms and aid in recovery. However, it's essential to seek medical advice if symptoms are severe, persistent, or accompanied by vision changes.

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