Optometrist: If flu outbreak comes, pink eye likely to follow

Published 1:07 am Friday, February 8, 2019

After a quiet few weeks of not seeing patients with pink eye, Dr. James Barton from Ensight Eye Care in Andalusia believes that there will be another wave of cases following  the ongoing flu outbreak.

“When it comes to pink eye, it waxes and wanes,” Barton said. “Some weeks it feels like we see 10 a day, but then sometimes it feels like we only see two a week. It comes in waves, but it is definitely worse during the school year. I feel like it is also worse during the flu season. It has been kind of quiet recently, which is quite concerning.”

He said in January he saw several patients with pink eye.

“At the beginning of January, we saw it nonstop,” Barton said. “Then it calmed down a little bit. With the flu going around though, I have a bad feeling that we are about to get really busy.”

There are several versions of what is known as “pink eye,” but Barton said the one version that causes a major problem is Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis (EKC.)

“What everybody worries about is EKC,” Barton said. “It is extremely contagious. When you think of pink eye in the common vernacular, that is what we always worry about, because it is just so contagious.”

Barton said that pink eye is usually can be two types of infections, a viral infection and a bacterial infection.

“Viral infections are more common in adults and bacterial is more common in children,” Barton said. “You catch these infections the same way as you would catch a cold or the flu, like if you come in contact with somebody who has it or you come across something that a contaminated person has touched. The virus usually sheds before the patient even has any symptoms. So you’ll be contagious a few days before you actually start showing symptoms.”

He said that there are several ways to stop the infection from spreading to other people.

“Make sure that you wash your hands, that is a big thing,” Barton said. “Avoid touching your eyes, wash your hands before and after you put your contacts in, make sure you wear your contacts correctly and stay away from people that are sick. Mommas make sure you don’t send your babies to school sick.”

When it comes to how long a patient should wait to go back to work, Barton said that they should wait at least 24 hours after they have no symptoms.

“We usually tell people that they need to wait until their eyes are no longer runny,” Barton said. “Until they are symptom free for 24 hours. Sometimes for whatever the reason, the virus will not leave the body, so patients need to be careful.”

Barton said that if it is a viral infection, there are not many treatments he can prescribe.

“With viral infections, the body has to wear it out,” Barton said. “If it is bacterial we can give you an antibiotic eye drop and it will go away. Betadine rinse is something that has shown to be very effective for viral infections. It will reduce the severity and the duration of the virus.”

If a patient gets a viral infection, Barton said that there are some things that patients can do at home to make the symptoms manageable.

“Again, patients need to wash their hands,” Barton said. “Cold compresses and artificial tears will help. They will definitely help with the burning and discomfort.”