A close look at Madras Eye

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It’s that time of the year again, from the looks of it. The Times of India on November 4 reported an outbreak of Madras Eye in Bangalore. Here’s an excerpt from the report by Sumitha Rao, “There’s an unofficial red-eye alert in the city. Doctors have confirmed a sharp rise in cases of viral conjunctivitis, commonly called ‘Madras Eye’, across Bengaluru. And what is unprecedented is entire families being affected simultaneously, say doctors.”

As vigilant guardians of eyes, this got us thinking. And we thought it’s time to take a closer look at Madras Eye – just so we all know a bit more about this annual visit, apart from the all-important how to avoid this unusually-named eyesore.

Google ‘Madras Eye’ and this is what you get at the top of the page: Madras Eye is an inflammation of the outermost layer of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids called conjunctiva. It is most commonly due to viral infection and is contagious.

Then, a little lower down the page, the wiki page is about Conjunctivities. How and why, then, did Conjunctivitis end up being called Madras Eye? For instance, is it known as, say, Mumbai Eye in Mumbai? Delhi Eye in Delhi? Ranchi Eye in Ranchi? And…you get the drift. Incidentally, doesn’t Madras Eye sound like the name of a crusading newspaper or a detective agency or some such thing investigative? How on earth did it end up with conjunctivitis? This needed to be investigated.

Why, why, why Madras Eye

So, here’s what we came up with, with a little help from Google: It is said that the name “madras eye” originated when the adenovirus, a virus that causes conjunctivitis, was first identified in Chennai (Madras), India. This name became more popular in 1990s when a film titled MADRAS EYE was released.
Link to film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0385071/

We weren’t convinced. This needed to be investigated further.

This is what else we dug up: Conjuctivitis occurs usually in extreme heat and humid conditions and is contagious. During the summer vacation, when Indian tourists visit the south, particularly Madras, they often get this ailment as they are unaccustomed to such heat and humidity. That’s why the ailment is called ‘Madras eye’. However, conjuctivitis is also common in other hot places in India (and abroad). Interestingly, in Delhi, it is called ‘Bombay eye’.

— S. Sundararajan, Navi Mumbai, July 13, 2003

Nope. That certainly didn’t cut the mustard. We needed a better source. We needed to be absolutely sure.

Look what we found: Madras eye is conjunctivitis. Also known as pink eye, it occurs when the eyelid and the eye surface are swollen and become red due to a viral infection. More importantly, how did the name Madras eye come about? Well, it originated because the adenovirus, which causes Madras eye, was first identified in Madras in 1918. This we found in The Hindu. Enough said.

How to bust the Madras Eye*

“Conjunctivitis is viral in nature and has become seasonal. In cold weather, the adenovirus multiplies rapidly, and the public should take precautions,” Dr. P. V. Nanda Kumar Reddy, Superintendent, S.D. Eye Hospital, Hyderabad.
Ophthalmologists point out that like common cold, which usually runs its course around winter time for three to four days, viral conjunctivitis, too, hits and runs its course for between a week and 10 days.
Patients with red eyes and swollen eyelids and watering, irritation, mild pain and discomfort in the eyes should visit an eye specialist immediately, as, on occasions, conjunctivitis is known to damage the cornea.
Patients should avoid touching their eyes and shaking hands and sharing towels with infected persons.
Owing to the contagious nature of the infection, patients must wear dark glasses, besides staying away from public places to prevent it from spreading.
Though some people suggest that pink eye can spread by merely being in a room with a person whose eyes are affected by the condition, this is untrue.
Conjunctivitis spreads through secretions from the eye. Thus, if a person touches his/her eye, he/she can pass on the infective virus or bacteria to another person or object that comes in contact with the secretion.

Wash your hands with soap and water at times of an epidemic. Carry an alcohol-based sanitizer with you to use when you do not have access to soap and water.

Avoid touching your eyes with your hand or any object like a handkerchief.

Do not share eye makeup or eye medicines.

Wash your eyes regularly and wipe with a disposable tissue. After that, immediately sterilize your hands. Do not leave the tissue lying around.

Avoid going to your place of work or school till you recover completely.
Any linen that you use like towels, bed sheets and pillow covers should be washed with hot water and detergent.

Do not wear contact lenses or any eye or face makeup.
Avoid going to the swimming pool or using the gym or other equipment that are used commonly by other people.
Sterilize eyeglasses and contact lenses once you recover from the condition.
If only one eye is affected, avoid touching the other eye.
Apply a warm or cold compress to the affected eye to sooth it. And do not forget to wash your hands after that.
Do not forget to visit a doctor as soon as symptoms set in to control the infection. The doctor will prescribe eye drops; do not share these with anyone.

*Sources: Google, The Hindu and Medindia

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