Thursday 29 September 2016

Contagious viruses and tackling dry eyes

Nina Byrnes

Published 07/06/2016 | 02:30

Dr Nina Byrnes
Dr Nina Byrnes

Advice from our GP on the norovirus and dry itchy eyes.

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Question: My daughter had vomiting and diarrhoea last week. She was really under the weather for a few days but seems a bit better now. Is this contagious and will the rest of my family get it now?

Dr Nina replies: Many vomiting episodes are caused by a group of viruses called noroviruses. These are extremely contagious so often run through families and households. They are more common during winter months but can occur any time of year.

Norovirus are the most common cause of vomiting bugs in Ireland, the UK and the USA. It is thought to affect up to 20,000 people a week here during peak season.

Gastrointestinal viruses cause inflammation of the stomach, intestines or both. This results in abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Diarrhoea may come on quite suddenly and be explosive. There may also be an associated, fever, headache or body aches and pains. Most cases are short lived and recovery occurs within one to three days.

The main danger with profuse vomiting and diarrhoea or prolonged symptoms is dehydration. Children and the elderly, or those with other illness, are especially at risk.

It is important to watch out for dark or reduced urine, dry mouth and lips, dizziness when standing, headache, and unusual tiredness as these are telltale signs that the body's fluid reserves are low.

Most viral gastroenteritis can be managed at home. The most important thing to do is to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids in order to replace those lost through diarrhoea and vomiting. Paracetamol may help if there is fever.

Try eating bland easily digested foods until symptoms resolve. If symptoms are going on more than three days or it is difficult to keep fluids down, there is a risk of dehydration and medical advice should be sought.

Viral gastroenteritis is extremely contagious and spreads easily among those in close contact. Those who are infected should stay out of work, school or crèche until at least 48 hours after the last vomiting or diarrhoea episode. As the virus can remain present in stool for up to two weeks after infection, it is also important to remain extremely vigilant about hand hygiene and to avoid swimming pools for this time.

Infection is passed either through direct contact with someone who has the virus or by touching a surface, which has become infected.

The virus can live on surfaces for several days so once again strict hygiene is one of the best ways to avoid it spreading. Surfaces should be cleaned regularly. Fresh food should be well cleaned prior to eating it.

Those who are sick should not prepare food for others while they are sick or for three days after.

Lastly, clothes and linens that have been used by someone who is ill should be washed thoroughly on a hot wash to kill any surviving bugs.

Question: My eyes are dry and itchy all the time. I try not to rub them as it makes it worse, but it can be hard to avoid. I have tried many drops and potions but nothing really helps. Have you any advice?

Dr Nina replies: Dry itchy eyes often flare this time of year as allergies set in. Other causes include infection, dry eyes or exposure to chemicals or irritants.

Prevention is always best so do your best to avoid triggers. Wear protective glasses when working with chemicals or fumes. Wear sunglasses when out and about if dust, pollens, grass or wind triggers the problem.

Avoid rubbing them, it will make it worse. Bathe the eyes and lids at least twice a day. Use cool boiled water. Hold a warm compress on initially to heat and moisten the skin. Then massage gently with a clean finger from the corner of the nose up and the outer corner of the eye inward to free any debris from the tear ducts. Lastly, put a drop of baby shampoo into the water and rub gently along the lashes to remove any oil or wax that may be there.

Using regular eye drops can help. Apply these as required. Lotions last longer but may blur your vision briefly so may be best used at night. If allergies are playing  a role, using anti-allergy drops can help. Your GP can prescribe these.

Antihistamine tablets and nasal sprays can also sometimes help.

If the white part of the eye is red and there is discharge, then infection may be present. It is still important to bathe the eye regularly but a course of antibiotic ointment or drops may be required.

Conjunctivitis can be extremely contagious so remember to wash your hands regularly and avoid contact with the unaffected eye and close contact with others.

Many cases of itchy eyes can be managed at home. However, if your vision is altered, if there is pain in the eye or swelling of the eyelid, it is important to seek  medical advice.

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