Dozens of eye injuries caused by poisonous caterpillars

Oak processionary caterpillars
Oak processionary caterpillarsPhoto: Luc hoogenstein/Wikimedia Commons

Dozens of people sustained eye injuries caused by miniscule hairs released by oak processionary caterpillars over the past weeks. At least 92 patients went to ophthalmologists in the Netherlands with eye problems caused by these poisonous caterpillars, NOS reports after surveying 133 ophthalmologists.

A quarter of the surveyed ophthalmologists dealt with injuries caused by the oak processionary caterpillar over the past weeks, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the Netherlands and in Rotterdam. Ten patients were affected so seriously that they will have long-term or possibly permanent issues with their eyes. 

The burning hairs of the oak processionary caterpillar are super small and sharp, with barbs. If they blow into your eye, it stings enormously. As long as the hair is on the surface of the eye, it causes little damage and can be rinsed out with lukewarm water. But if the hair penetrates they eye and gets in behind the cornea, it can cause damage to the eye and vision. 

In most cases, patients suffered with symptoms for a few weeks before going to an ophthalmologist. People often first go to their GP with symptoms like burning, red or inflamed eyes, but according to ophthalmologist Tjeerd de Faber, house doctors can't properly identify the problem. A hair of an oak processionary caterpillar is simply too small to see, he explained to NOS. This requires a so-called slit lamp, a microscopic lamp ophthalmologists use in their research. This means that a number of patients were misdiagnosed and walked around with symptoms for an unnecessarily long time, according to De Faber.

De Faber treated a 12-year-old girl who got something in her eye while cycling a month ago. Her left eye was itchy, swollen and red, but the GP did not make the connection with he oak processionary caterpillar. "The doctor gave antibiotics and said it would be gone in two weeks", her father said to NOS. But the girl's eyesight deteriorated, her vision was blurred and she couldn't see in light. She currently only has 40 percent vision in that eye. She ended up in De Faber's office on Monday. He found around 30 oak processionary caterpillar hairs in her eye. He was able to remove some and started treatment. "The future will tell if she will regain her eyesight. Because that is not yet certain", her father said.



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