WHEN two-year-old Hunter Wilmott finally opened his eyes, Emily Healey burst into tears.
Hunter had been blinded and in agony for hours and his Benalla mother had felt completely helpless.
“He was crying and in obvious pain, asking me to clean his eyes,” Ms Healey, 24, said.
“He kept screaming ‘mummy clean, mummy clean, mummy clean’ and I had no idea what to do — it was horrible.”
After two trips to hospital and a visit from paramedics on Monday, Hunter was eventually diagnosed with Christmas Eye.
The debilitating eye infection, considered as painful as childbirth, is unique to the North East and southern NSW, but little else is known about it.
Doctors say Christmas Eye is the result of an infection from a microscopic bug, probably a beetle, and corrodes the thin skin layer, or epithelium, that covers the eye.
Wangaratta optometrist Dr Robert Holloway, who treated Hunter, compares it to “a really bad graze on your eye”.
“It is a pain of the worst kind,” Dr Holloway said.
“On the pain scale it is an eight or nine out of 10 ... it’s apparently on par with giving birth.
“It was a terrible thing for someone as young as Hunter because he couldn’t express what was going on, all he knew was that he was in a lot of pain.”
Ms Healey first knew something was wrong with Hunter when she found him red-eyed, thrashing about in his bed Monday morning.
She treated him for hayfever but his condition quickly deteriorated.
“I couldn’t believe how quickly he went downhill, it was incredible,” Ms Healy said.
“As a mother it was heartbreaking — there was nothing I could do.
“As a parent you’re supposed to be able to protect your children from everything and when something like this happens ... you feel really helpless.”
Dr Holloway said there was neither a prevention nor cure for Christmas Eye.
“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.