February 18, 2014
Bob Costas — an Olympic feature nearly as recognizable as the five rings themselves — was missing in the anchor chair at the Games for the first time since 1988. His reason? A pesky case of conjunctivitis — a common eye infection also known as pinkeye.
While most of the world watched the athletes skiing, skating and curling their way to victory, people couldn’t help noticing Costas’ eye. Tuesday morning, when it was announced that he’d be benching himself in favor of Matt Lauer, Costas had become a bigger story than Team USA’s medal count, with news agencies all over the country reporting on his weepy, bright red eyes.
However, pinkeye isn’t a huge concern. Caused by the same virus that leads to scratchy throats and stuffy noses, it usually clears up on its own within a week … though it is extremely contagious. Those with pinkeye should take special care to wash their hands after touching their face and not share towels or washcloths with unaffected people. Children might be required to stay home from school until the infection is gone.
Lubricating eye drops, cold compresses and sometimes prescribed steroids can help relieve the itching and burning associated with the condition. If the infection lasts longer than two weeks, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor to rule out any underlying problems.
Not all eye infections are as forgiving as pinkeye. Keratitis, a condition where the cornea of the eye becomes infected and inflamed, is common to those who wear contact lenses. The infection can be caused by bacteria, fungus or even single-celled parasites. Most cases of keratitis can be successfully treated with prescription eye drops; in extreme cases, however, corneal scarring may necessitate a full corneal transplant.
The risk of keratitis can be minimized by cleaning and maintaining your contact lenses and cases as directed and practicing good hygiene when inserting and removing your contacts.
Endophthalmitis is a rare but severe eye infection that can occur after eye surgery or as a result of an infection elsewhere in the body. It can cause the entire eyeball to become abscessed and necessitate immediate vitrectomy. Many people who are treated for this condition will have at least partial vision loss in the affected eye after treatment.
Eye Infection Prevention
Most eye infections are simple to prevent. Wash your hands frequently, especially when suffering from the cold or flu. Make sure children don’t touch their mouth or nose and then their eyes, as doing so can help the infection spread.
Mascara, eyeliner and eye shadow can cause reinfection. Be sure to throw away all eye makeup after a bout with pinkeye or other maladies. Don’t share makeup with others. Wash your face before turning in for the night.
Consult your primary care doctor if you’re experiencing itching, burning, redness, oozing, tearing or crusting, or if you notice diminished eyesight. Often, a broad spectrum antibiotic will clear the infection up in the (wait for it…) blink of an eye!
We wish Bob Costas a speedy recovery and Team USA the very best of luck.
(Photo: Costas on air February 10 – @johngreenman/NBC)