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Painful eye condition caused by a tiny beetle

You might not have heard of the orthoperus beetle, but if you become a victim of one, you will certainly know about it, and not in a good way. The orthoperus beetle, a native Australian, is a tiny terror that can cause an extremely painful condition known as Christmas Eye.

As you might have guessed, Christmas Eye is so named because it most commonly occurs around Christmas time in Australia. Do not blame the Christmas beetle for it, though. Christmas Eye is caused by a much smaller beetle, one that measures only about half a millimetre.

The problem begins when you are unlucky enough to have an orthoperus beetle in your eye. That in itself is not a problem, outside the minor discomfort that any speck of dust in your eye might cause. The real trouble starts if you happen to rub your eye while the beetle is in there.

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That rubbing is likely to crush the beetle, releasing a toxic substance known as pederin into your eye. Pederin is a blistering agent – not the sort of thing you want on your cornea and the rest of your eyeball.

You might not feel too much to begin with, but over the next 12 to 24 hours you will know all about it. As the blistering process kicks in, the pain starts and gets more severe with time.

It’s apparently excruciating and described by some as akin to childbirth. Ouch.

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A recent victim was Pip, a resident of Wodonga. She described the pain this way: “It basically feels like blow torches in your eye.”

Pip had woken up to a pain in her right eye, which she attributed to dry eyes, something she experiences regularly. Her usual eyedrops failed to ease the discomfort and the pain continued to worsen to the point where she sought medical advice and received the diagnosis of Christmas Eye.

As a result of the blistering, the surface of the eye actually falls off. As bad as that sounds, Christmas Eye is treatable with regular antibiotics, and the human eye is good enough to make a full recovery, leaving you with nothing more than painful memories.

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The condition is generally limited to a small pocket of Australia, and even within that pocket it is rare, although higher case numbers have been recorded this summer.

According to Rob Holloway, an optometrist in the region, he will usually only see about 10 cases in any one summer, but this year the number is up around the 30 mark.

That pocket encompasses the farming region of northern Victoria and southern New South Wales. As a result, the condition is also known as Albury-Wodonga Syndrome, Harvester’s Eye and Harvester’s Keratitis.

Perhaps it’s fitting that a condition that causes so much pain is known by four different names!

Have you been unlucky enough to suffer from Christmas Eye? How would you describe your experience? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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