What is conjunctivitis and how do I recognize it?

Conjunctivitis is where the tissues surrounding the horse’s eyes become irritated by allergens, excessive dust, flies, injury, or a combination of irritants. The eyes appear red and watery and often the nasolacrimal (tear) duct becomes inflamed and swollen as well and no longer drains the eye normally.

Symptoms include:

  • Inflammation of the mucous membrane or pink lining that surrounds the eyeball
  • Redness of eye tissues
  • Swelling and watering of eyes, sticky
  • Yellowish discharge
  • Often times refusal of horse to open the eyes or repeated clenching of eyelids

Conjunctivitis may be caused by any number of irritants, including dust, pollen, insect bites, flies, allergens, or it may also be the result of injury to the eye.

Unfortunately it is impossible to determine whether it is a simple form of conjunctivitis or if the conjunctivitis is accompanying a more serious condition such as a corneal ulcer so it should always be given immediate attention.

How can we treat it?

Removing known irritants from the environment is the first step in preventing conjunctivitis. Keeping dust of all kinds at a minimum, having an insect control plan in place, and taking care to prevent injuries to the horse’s eyes will help lessen the problem.  In the case of ongoing or repeated cases of conjunctivitis a fly mask may be a large help in managing the problem.

In cases of simple conjunctivitis, merely removing the offending irritant can help solve the problem.

However in cases of more serious conjunctivitis it will be necessary to perform an examination of the cornea to be sure there are no corneal ulcers and then start the horse on an ophthalmic ointment with a steroid.  The steroid works to decrease inflammation and calm down the irritated tissues.  Since steroids decrease the eye’s ability to heal, it is imperative to be sure that there is no corneal ulcer present when you begin to administer the medication.

Equine ophthalmic issues can evolve from simple to serious very quickly so please do not hesitate to call your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding your horse’s eyes. We are open 24/7 for emergencies (608) 592-7755.

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