The eye flu, which medically correctly is called keratoconjunctivitis epidemica, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva and cornea of the eye caused by adenoviruses. It lasts around four weeks and is the most common viral disease in the eye, easily transmitted and very contagious. Some patients develop so-called nummuli from the eye flu, which limit their vision for a long time.
What is epidemic keratoconjunctivitis?
If an infection with the Kreatoconjunctivitis epidemica has taken place, there is initially a stronger feeling of foreign bodies, which emanates from the corner of the eye near the nose. The lymph nodes in the neck area are often thickened.
As the process progresses, the eyelids swell. The eye reddens and begins to water. In addition, there is pronounced itching, sensitivity to light and a deterioration in vision. After two days, at the latest after a week, the other eye is also affected.
Usually mild – some people may not even notice the infection in the second eye. If the cornea of the eye is affected by the inflammation, nummulia can develop. These restrict the ability to see and increase the patient’s particular sensitivity to light.
Eye flu is triggered by adenoviruses of types 8, 19 and 37. These viruses are particularly resistant outside the host body and are able to spread the disease for a long time. Keratoconjunctivitis epidemica is therefore notifiable.
Since eye flu is a highly contagious smear infection, it can easily spread via door handles and other surfaces. The risk of getting infected is particularly high in public places such as schools, indoor swimming pools or care facilities – or when going to the doctor.
The eye flu also spreads from person to person, for example through tear fluid or through the hands. It affects all age groups and can occur at any time of the year.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
The first symptoms of eye flu appear very suddenly after an incubation period of around two weeks. At first, the patient does not notice the infection. The complaints then appear out of nowhere. The eyeball turns red, the conjunctiva swells, and the eyes begin to itch and water. In addition, there is severe eye pain.
In the further course, the complaints increase more and more. The vision becomes more and more blurred. In very rare cases, permanent visual damage can also occur. In addition to these symptoms, flu-like symptoms can occur. These express themselves like a common flu-like infection with fever, body aches, headaches and fatigue.
The triggering adenoviruses are highly infectious and long-lasting. They can survive for weeks on different objects and can be transferred afterwards. Only through strict hygiene measures such as frequent washing of the hands and disinfection measures is it possible to reduce the risk of infection to family members and other contact persons.
Once the eye flu has broken out, there is no treatment that will help it heal faster. Only the symptoms can be alleviated by using cooling compresses and eye drops. The symptoms usually subside on their own within two weeks. Due to the high risk of infection, the patient should stay at home for two to three weeks.
Diagnosis & course
The ophthalmologist makes the diagnosis based on the visible signs of the disease. These usually develop within a few hours. As a rule, nucleic acid detection is also used as a diagnostic tool. Rapid tests are not as reliable as the laboratory result.
The course of the viral infection can be accompanied by aching limbs and a feeling of weakness. Inflammation of the cornea can occur from the fourth day after the first signs of the disease. If it is affected, this is initially shown by small, punctiform changes. These are gradually getting bigger.
After the acute phase, this can result in nummuli: round opacities in the cornea that lead to a reduction in visual acuity and increased sensitivity to light. It can take several weeks or months for the nummuli to completely disappear. The acute phase of eye flu heals within three to six weeks. Some patients then develop dry eyes, which require treatment.
The main clinical symptom of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis known as eye flu is inflammation of the conjunctiva. Adenoviruses penetrate the mucous membranes of the eyes and cause redness and inflammation there without any prior notice. The upper and lower eyelids are swollen, and the lymph nodes in front of the ears are usually also affected.
Patients complain of a foreign body sensation in the eyes, but vision is not affected. These symptoms are accompanied by profuse lacrimation and some sensitivity to light. The inflammation causes drooping lower eyelids in most patients. Every second patient is also affected by corneal inflammation after four weeks.
The eye flu usually runs without complications and can be treated well with appropriate medication, so that patients do not have to fear any long-term effects. In rare cases, conjunctivitis spreads to the pharynx, the upper respiratory tract, the lungs, the gastrointestinal tract and the liver. In the worst case, it can lead to meningitis and meningitis.
However, these serious complications are extremely rare if treatment is not given or if treatment is given too late. Adenoviruses are very resistant and can be found everywhere around the sick people. The extraordinarily high infection rate is therefore characteristic of the eye flu. Waves of infection occur regularly in the home, in schools and kindergartens. Abbreviated as EKC by Abbreviationfinder, epidemic keratoconjunctivitis is notifiable in the form of a nosocomial infection in clinics.
When should you go to the doctor?
If you have an eye flu, you must definitely see a doctor. The eye flu itself can negatively affect the eyesight of the person affected and in the worst case lead to blindness or other irreversible damage to the eyes.
For this reason, early diagnosis and treatment is very important. As a rule, the doctor should be consulted if there is a sensation of a foreign body in the eye and if the eyes are significantly swollen. Furthermore, the eyes are not infrequently red and can itch or water.
In most cases, the symptoms last for several days and do not go away on their own. Sudden poor eyesight or severe sensitivity to light can also be a sign of the eye flu and should definitely be examined. Furthermore, the eye flu also leads to a general feeling of weakness and fatigue and not infrequently to aching limbs. The cornea can also become inflamed and lead to further discomfort to the eyes. Eye flu should be treated directly by an ophthalmologist.
Treatment & Therapy
The acute symptoms of the disease are treated with tear substitutes. If the disease is very severe, antibiotics are given to keep the infection from getting worse.
There is no treatment option for the eye flu itself. However, there are different research results that open up possibilities for supportive therapy. Glanciclovir is one possibility that has partially led to a decrease in the number of viruses in animal experiments and thus can reduce the transferability and worsening of the disease. It can be used as a gel on the eye.
The administration of ciclosporin-A eye drops in another animal experiment reduced the occurrence of severe corneal opacity, but had an unfavorable effect on the surrounding tissue. The application of antimicrobial Providone-Iodine in gel form or administration via eye drops was well tolerated in a small clinical study and resulted in a shorter duration of illness. In addition, the patients did not develop as many nummuli and the virus levels decreased.
One problem is the treatment of nummuli, which remain after the actual keratoconjunctivitis epidemica has subsided. Here the doctor can administer steroid eye drops. This improves the symptoms, but often causes the symptoms to come back when you stop treatment. The virus also remains active longer. In addition, side effects and steroid addiction can arise. Alternatively, the use of a calcine urin inhibitor can be tried, which has led to a slight improvement in vision and a reduction in symptoms in some test subjects.
The administration of drugs that reduce the activity of the immune system is also an option. This is because nummuli are made up of immune complexes (a mixture of antigens and antibodies). If numbuli persist after several months despite this treatment, surgical removal by laser treatment is an option. This can help improve eyesight, but it is not without risk.
Outlook & forecast
Normally, an eye flu can be expected to have a very good prognosis. Although the disease is very contagious and causes numerous complaints, there are well-tried and proven treatment options that lead to a relief of the symptoms within a short time. In addition, they have the effect that the patient is considered completely cured within a few weeks.
The healing process may be delayed in patients who do not receive medical care or who are intolerant to antibiotics or eye drops. Nevertheless, it is also true of these patients that they will ultimately be cured. The self-healing powers or alternative possibilities need more time for the recovery process. In spite of everything, the eye flu will also lead to freedom from symptoms for the patient. The stronger the immune system of the sick person, the faster and better the chances of recovery.
The impairments that have occurred gradually regress during the therapy until they have completely disappeared. Regardless of the good prognosis, the eye flu can recur in the course of life and trigger the same symptoms. A return is possible at any time, as there is no way to protect yourself from the pathogens for life. A new outbreak of the disease is treated according to the same guidelines. The very good prognosis also applies here.
Proper hand washing is an important measure. Disinfecting surfaces and hands is also helpful. A study has shown that interferon eye drops can help prevent infection, for example when dealing with sick people at work. Patients with epidemic keratoconjunctivitis should also be isolated, as they can infect other people through the second eye for up to two weeks after the onset of the disease.
↳ Further information: Home remedies for eye infections
Only adequate hygiene protects against eye flu. People should therefore never touch the area around their eyes with unwashed hands. In this way, the pathogens reach the organ of vision and trigger the typical symptoms. If several people live in the same household, sick people should always use their own towel and change it regularly.
To date, there is no effective remedy for the eye flu. Once it has subsided, there is by no means immunity. Rather, the disease can occur again and again. Pathogens are often transmitted from person to person. Infection is possible even when shaking hands. Busy places are also at risk. In buses and trams, the pathogens are transmitted imperceptibly via the gripping surfaces.
In severe cases, several doctor’s appointments are sometimes necessary. There it is checked to what extent the inflammation subsides. To prevent complications, cooling compresses have proven effective. Eye drops can speed up recovery. Tear substitutes mitigate the attack on the conjunctiva. The eye flu heals completely after two to four weeks. There are then no further restrictions.
You can do that yourself
The epidemic keratoconjunctivitis as an infectious inflammation of the conjunctiva is unpredictable. The eye flu, which has a lot in common with the real flu, has no causal cure options. Those affected therefore have to wait for spontaneous healing, but can help themselves with simple means during the period of illness.
Those affected can achieve alleviation of the symptoms with cool compresses. The poultices cool the eye area pleasantly and provide relief from swelling and inflammation. Since the eye flu is accompanied by symptoms of inflammation in the conjunctiva, various tear substitutes can provide relief during the acute phase of the disease. The eye flu spreads via smear infection and is highly infectious. For this reason, those affected should attach great importance to preventing the spread of the infection.
In everyday life, hygiene measures, above all hand disinfection, are indispensable. Infectiousness exists within a period of 14 days after the onset of the disease. In order to protect one’s surroundings, greater attention should be paid to appropriate hygiene during this period, and if possible also to isolate the person concerned.
The towels of the person concerned should also not be used by other people. Since the body has to deal with the inflammation in the eyes, physical rest is recommended. In most cases, the inflammation will subside within two weeks, even without therapy.