As the heat becomes intense, so is the need to reduce its impact. People do everything they can to cool off, but often they do not take enough precautions to prevent infections.

The eye is a gentle organ which requires protection. Unlike other organs, the eye is vulnerable and easily susceptible to infections. It is important to remember that many eye infections can spread through water. Chemicals used in a swimming pool can also lead to allergic reactions in the eye.

“A common problem is swimming pool conjunctivitis,” Atheeswar Das, Medical Director of Maxivision tells me. “This occurs when people swim without goggles. Most people do not realise that it not advisable to wear contact lenses while swimming. “Some time ago, I had a woman patient who swam with her contact lenses on. She came in with near vision loss,” he said.

He urges patients to remain alert when they go to spas or sauna baths, as the steam there might harbour organisms which can get deposited on the contact lens. The only way to eliminate the problem is to take precautionary measures like wearing goggles while swimming. Conjunctivitis or ‘Madras Eye' which is caused by Adenovirus, can spread in a hot, humid summer, merely by contact with a person who has the ailment.

Diseases that were considered a problem in the West are now finding their way to Indian children too, Dr. Das said. Until recently, spring catarrh (pronounced ‘kataar') was considered an infection found only in Western countries. The disease is caused by an allergic reaction to pollen, dust and summer heat.

“As the temperature goes up, dust and pollen in the air can cause allergic reactions in the eye. The symptoms are more common in spring and summer, as there are more airborne allergens in the atmosphere. There are inflammatory mediators in the eye, which, when they come in contact with the allergens, are triggered. They cause itching and watering of the eyes,” he said. This results in an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin clear lining that covers the eye and the inside of the lids.

The symptoms include burning, itching, watering, red eyes and a brownish hue in the eyes.

“Spring catarrh is a misnomer as there are more cases in the summer. When I had been to a hospital in Amritsar as an observer, I saw patients with spring catarrh,” K. Vasantha, director and superintendent of Regional Institute of Ophthalmology and Government Eye Hospital told me.

Sometimes, during summer, if you experience a sticky discharge from the eye, then do not dismiss it as being caused by excessive heat. Dr. Vasantha tells me that the discharge is due to an infection which requires medical attention and has nothing to do with excessive heat. “Even stye has become more common of late,” she said. Stye is a bump caused either on the outside or inside of the eyelids. A common cause of the infection is sharing of eye make-up. The stye could disappear by itself or may need a warm compress for the bump to subside.

Also, cataracts can be avoided if we use shaded eye glasses while going out in the sun, Dr. Vasantha said. “One reason for cataract is believed to be ultraviolet radiation. Shades which prevent ultraviolet radiations are an essential item in summer,” she added.

RELATED NEWS

R. SujathaJune 28, 2012

More In: Chennai | Columns