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Eye Problems: The Next View
Eye Problems: The Next View

Tears, Treatment, and one Caution

Last week  we discussed injuries and tearing of the eye.  The article generated more interest than I suspected and I apologize to those who requested an article on this topic over a year ago.  Suggestions for topics are greatly appreciated and a big help in planning each week’s writing.  These are not ‘canned’ or preprinted articles from some other source, so my little mind has to come up with something original each week.  There, you can see why I need help with topics!

To continue our discussion of last week we will cover each cause of eye problems, and the best management to shorten the painful course of the disease.  The most common eye problem is also one of the least dangerous to eyesight.  This is conjunctivitis.  This nice long word means inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the white tissue around the clear center (the cornea) of the eye. Inflammation can be due to dust, pollen, or some other irritant from the environment where the horse resides: so it will also affect both eyes.  If allowed to persist for long, infection will set up under the lids and white strands of pus can be seen on the white of the eye and between the eyelids.  The earliest sign will be constant tearing (as in crying, not ripping).  You can clean the front of the face and within hours it will be wet again.  If you care to look, and if Dobbin decides to cooperate, you can raise an eye lid and see red streaks throughout the conjunctiva surface.

Treatment will give prompt and satisfying results. It will not however, prevent the condition from returning.  If the inflammation is due to conditions where Dobbin lives, these conditions will have to change before long term relief can be expected.  So treat the eye with the prescribed medicine until the tearing stops, and then go one day longer.  Keep the medicine available because until the bedding is changed, or the dust is removed, when it next rains, or until the pollen season passes, the conjunctivitis may reoccur at any time.  Keep the label on each horse’s medicine to avoid the risk of spreading bacteria between horses.

The treatment for conjunctivitis is an antibiotic ointment with cortisone. The antibiotic is important to prevent infection, or to treat infection in the prolonged case.  The steroid reduces the reaction of the conjunctiva tissue to the irritant and the resulting inflammation, it literally takes the red away and is more important for a fast recovery than the antibiotic.  Here is where a very important point must be made:

If there is an injury to the cornea (the clear center part), steroids must not be used as they delay healing.  Even a slight delay in the healing of a deep wound will allow rupture of the eye.  So the eye must be examined very carefully when selecting treatment.  Only if the surface of the eye is intact can we proceed with the combination treatment we mentioned above.  We will often stain the eye during the exam.  An eye injury will retain some of the stain so we can see it with the light.  Only after the eye heals and is free of stain can we proceed with the combination ointment.  The ointment base carries the antibiotics and steroid and provides the all important lubrication between the eyelid and the eye ball.  As anything put into the eye will wash away with the tears, the more often ointment is put into the eye, the better.

Early in the course of a viral infection, both eyes may run.  There are plenty of other signs the horse is sick to tell them apart.  The eyes will stop tearing as the horse recovers.  Next week we will discuss treatment of the problems affecting a single eye.

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