Tiny bug causing ‘horrendous’ eye condition during Aussie summer

The condition results from a miniscule beetle causing the surface of the cornea to melt.

An optometrist has warned a "horrendous" condition called 'Christmas eye' is on the rise in parts of southeast Australia.

The bizarre condition is described by Optometry Australia as "one of the most unusual corneal conditions in the field of optometric health" and is very common in the Albury-Wodonga region.

Kelly Gibbons from Wodonga Eyecare said she has treated several cases which is believed to be caused by a small but mighty bug.

A photo of optometrist, Kelly Gibbons, from Wodonga Eyecare. A photo of a woman suffering from Christmas eye, making her eye red and swollen.
Optometrist Kelly Gibbons (left) says the painful condition of Christmas eye is caused by a tiny bug. Source: ABC

"Christmas eye is essentially a really nasty cornea ulcer that happens at the front of the eye caused by a tiny beetle," the optometrist told the ABC.

She said once the beetle gets inside the eye, it "essentially melts the surface layers of the cornea which is just horrendous for the poor person affected".

The pain level is said to be an 8 or 9 out of 10, which "people compare to childbirth".

"These people are in abject misery," she told the broadcaster.

As its name suggests 'Christmas eye' usually comes around during the holiday season in the hot, dry summer in South Eastern Australia between mid-November and late-February, Optometry Australia reports.

A photo of an eye under a retinal camera that has the Christmas eye condition. A photo of a beetle causing Christmas eye believed to be in the Orthoperus species.
The beetle causing 'Christmas eye' is believed to be in the Orthoperus species. Source: Optometry Australia/ Wikipedia

While a lack of physical evidence has made it difficult to single out an offender, a small hooded beetle from the Orthoperus species is said to be the cause.

Cases usually involve the patient doing some sort of outdoor activity like gardening or mowing.

"There's nearly always a history of them being outside mowing," Ms Gibbons told the ABC. "That there is something in the grass at that stage that has gotten into someones eye. But people don’t always remember something getting into the eye and certainly by the time I see the patient I can’t find anything."

Symptoms and treatment for 'Christmas eye'

According to Optometry Australia, symptoms include excessive tears, an unpleasant response to natural light like burning, itching and redness of the eyes, as well as a headache and nausea.

Because of the damaged done to the eye, treatment is simply about "managing the pain and preventing infections" until the "surface of the cornea grows back again," Ms Gibbons told the ABC.

Patients will generally be given anti-inflammatories like Panadol, Nurofen or Voltaren, a bandage with a silicone hydrogel contact lens, eye drops and encouraged to rest for a few days.

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