A debilitating eye condition has flared in the North East this summer.
Known as Christmas Eye, the condition is the result of contact with a microscopic bug that corrodes the thin skin layer, or epithelium, that covers the eye.
It only occurs in the North East and southern Riverina where the bug is endemic at this time of year.
Wangaratta optometrist Dr Robert Holloway said he had treated about a dozen cases already this month.
“We see it every year but we’ve seen bucket loads this year,” Dr Holloway said.
“Some years we see very little and some years we see an awful lot; there’s anecdotal evidence that this year is busier than last year.”
Dr Holloway said people who had succumbed to the bug presented with intense eye pain, sensitivity to light and swollen eyelids.
He said investigation under the microscope showed the protective skin layer across the front of the eye was missing.
“It’s a painful reaction to a bug, not an infection,” he said.
“It’s like the body’s reaction to a mosquito bite; the eye reacts to the bug or something the bug secretes.”
Dr Holloway said without treatment the pain could last up to a week.
He said he used a bandage contact lens to cover exposed skin and anti-inflammatory eye drops to dial back the pain.
“There are no symptoms of Christmas Eye after a fortnight,” he said.
Teenagers up to a 72-year-old had presented at Holloway Vision Centre this month; some were referred from Wangaratta hospital’s emergency department or GPs and others went directly.
Dr Holloway said people working outside were susceptible to the bug.
“All of the people who presented with it were outside doing something when it happened,” he said.
Dr Holloway said there was no prevention for Christmas Eye, which he had treated during the past 25 years.
“We know it’s not contagious, we know where and when it strikes ... but there hasn’t been a lot of research beyond that,” he said.
Christmas Eye is also known as seasonal corneal ulcer or Albury-Wodonga syndrome since the bug is found in Albury-Wodonga, though there have been cases in Wangaratta, Shepparton, Benalla, Glenrowan and Yarrawonga.