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Articles by Dr. Tesluk

EYE WORMS: UGLY CAUSE OF RED EYES
 

Dr. Stephen Tesluk, DVM

 

WARNING: The subject tof today’s column is not intended for readers’ with delicate sensibilities.  Those who find creepy-crawly encounters disgusting or nauseating should consider turning gto the sports page.  Even battle-hardened veterinary technicians get the heebie jeebies when confronted with the antagonist in the following story.

 

Anna Lid came into the exam room with Gary, her Labrador cross reluctantly following behind her.

            “It’s Gary eyes,” she began, “they get red every now and then, and each time we treat with the eye drops we got from you they get better, but this time they’re not getting better – they are getting worse.”

            “I’m glad you brought Gary in today,” I told her.  “There may be something new going on in his eyes.  Let’s have a look.”

            The inside lining of Gary’s eyelids were bright red and swollen, and he had a colored discharge in the inside corner of each eye.  As I manipulated Gary’s eyelids to better view the outer part of the eyeball, I saw a faint outline of what appeared to be a thin strand of mucus down in the corner of his left eye.  It seemed to flick in and out of view like some sort of apparition.

            I rubbed my eyes and looked again, as it appeared and vanished once more.

            “I think I may have found the problem,” I said as I applied a few drops of a topical anesthetic in Gary’s eyes.

            I took a small pair of tweezers out of the drawer directed them down into the corner where I’d seen the mucus.  I could hear Mrs. Lid gasp as I pulled an inch long, white worm from Gary’s eye.

            “OK, what is that thing?” she said as she averted her eyes from the trophy I held up for her inspection.  “This is Thelazia californiensis, also known as the eye worm.  This nematode, along with several of his brothers, is causing the redness and irritation on Gary’s eyes.”

            “How did he get it, and more importantly, can I get it too?” she asked.

            “Adult worms live in the tissue around the eye and deposit larva which are ingested by flies that feed on the secretions from the eyes.  The larvae molt twice within the fly and then are deposited in the eye of a new host while the fly feeds.  The larvae feed on the eye secretions and mature into adults.  Thankfully, the eye worm does not infect humans.  We have to remove the eye worms manually, and we will need to sedate Gary so he is quiet during the extraction.”

            We removed about a dozen worms from each of Gary’s eyes and prescribed some anti-inflammatory eye drops.  As a courtesy, we saved the still living worms in a sealed, glass tube containing saline, so Mrs. Lid could gross out her friends.

            In the past three months, I’ve diagnosed four separate cases of eye worms in dogs and cats.  That is four more cases than I’ve seen in the last 5 years.  This mini-epidemic could be related to increased rainfall over the last year, or other environmental factors.

            Although they are not a common cause of a red eye, eye worms still need to be considered as a possibility, particularly when there is little or no response to topical medication.




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