Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis or “EKC” is a severe viral infection that affects both the conjunctiva and the cornea. It begins as a very severe conjunctivitis associated with glandular swelling in front of the ears. It may start in one eye, but usually affects the other eye in a day or two; or it may begin in both eyes simultaneously. Frequently, the eyelids are swollen shut. Within a few days, the cornea becomes affected initially on the surface and later it proceeds to go deeper. This corneal involvement causes severe irritation and extreme sensitivity to light. This, together with blurred vision, makes driving difficult or impossible.
Ocular symptoms of Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis:
- Blurred vision/loss of visual acuity
- Ocular itchiness and irritation
- Conjunctival hyperemia/erythema (redness) of bulbar conjunctiva
- Conjunctival hyperemia/erythema (redness) of palpebral conjunctiva
- Chemosis (conjunctival edema)
- Epithelial keratitis
- Yellow or clear discharge from the eye or eyes
- Eyelid swelling
- Excessive tearing
- Follicular reaction
- Foreign body sensation
This disorder is caused by a small virus and therefore has no specific treatment. Cold compresses and soothing eye drops are helpful. Some eye doctors use cortisone or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drops to alleviate the discomfort and blurred vision caused by the corneal lesions.
Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis is highly contagious. Persons with active “EKC” should be isolated within the home for at least 10 days and all precautions taken to prevent the disease from spreading to others. The symptoms are so severe that normal activities of daily living become impossible.
The lesions in the cornea fade very slowly, often taking six or more months to disappear. Actually, faint spots may be seen by the eye care professionals many years later.