WEDNESDAY, Feb. 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- While skiers,
snowboarders and skaters held viewers' attention during this week's
Winter Olympics, it was tough not to notice TV broadcaster Bob
Costas's glaring eye infection as well.
The persistent infection, known as conjunctivitis, that forced
Costas to break away from his post Tuesday is caused by the same
virus as the common cold, experts say. But instead of latching on
to the membranes in the nose or throat, conjunctivitis infects
similar membranes in the eye.
"It's usually an adenovirus -- the same virus that infects you when you get a sore throat or a runny nose," explained Dr. Mark Fromer, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
The result is an inflammation of the clear covering of the white
part of the eye and the lining of the underside of the eyelid, said
Dr. Brad Tannen, assistant professor and vice chairman of
ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New
Usually, patients' eyes itch, swell and tear, Tannen said. It's
also likely that Costas may be experiencing light sensitivity and
blurred vision, other common symptoms of conjunctivitis.
Last Thursday, opening night of NBC's Olympics coverage,
Costas's very red left eye was unmistakable. The infection quickly
became a hot topic.
Instead of subsiding, though, the infection grew worse. By
Monday night it was evident that the Olympics icon now had
"pinkeye" -- as it is commonly called -- in both eyes. For Tuesday
night's programming, Matt Lauer subbed for Costas, who has hosted
the Games since 1988.
Conjunctivitis is highly contagious, and easily spread from one
eye to the other by rubbing your eyes, Fromer said. It also passes
from one person to another through touch.
Although probably uncomfortable, Costas is unlikely to be in any
medical danger, these experts said.
Just like the common cold, viral conjunctivitis has no cure. But
it usually goes away without treatment in five days to a week,
"It's very rare for it to take much longer than a week. It's annoying, but you get better without causing any permanent damage," he added.
In the meantime, there is no reason to limit activities, such as
reading or TV watching, that rely on sight.
To reduce the itching and swelling, "artificial lubricating
drops are given," Fromer said. "Occasionally a mild steroid is
given to take the edge off and make the patient more
Cold compresses can also help relieve the itch and swelling,
An antibiotic is also given to treat the possible bacteria
underlying the conjunctivitis, Fromer said.
Bacterial conjunctivitis can be more problematic than viral
"Conjunctivitis can also be caused by bacteria, which is more serious with a lot more redness, a lot more discharge and mucus production," said Dr. Rishi Singh, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Fromer said bacterial conjunctivitis can also lead to scarring
of the cornea and reduced vision.
If you develop conjunctivitis, hand washing is the best way to
prevent spreading the infection to others, Singh said. And you
shouldn't wear contact lenses until the condition passes, he
In addition, Tannen advises not sharing items that may come in
contact with the eyes, such as towels and bed sheets.
If the infection doesn't resolve on its own within 10 days to
two weeks, you should seek the care of an eye doctor, Tannen
For more information on conjunctivitis, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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