Eye problems are more prevalent through the summer and fall. It is important to be aware that any eye problem should be considered serious and addressed in a timely manner. Certain eye conditions can progress quite rapidly (within 24 hours), becoming so serious that the horse will need to have the eye removed or will become blind. Most eye problems look the same to the owner: swollen, closed and tearing. The following problems are most commonly encountered, and they all have different treatments.
The most common problem is corneal ulcers. This problem usually involves one eye and tearing. Ulcers begin when the surface of the cornea is damaged. Most corneal ulcers do not threaten the overall health of the eye unless they become infected with certain types of bacteria or fungus which produce enzymes that cause further destruction of the cornea. Never treat an eye without first contacting a veterinarian. Some medications contain steroids such as hydrocortisone or dexamethasone. Steroids can cause further damage if given to horses with corneal damage.
Another problem is conjunctivitis. This presents typically with both eyes involved and includes mild eyelid swelling, tearing and inflamed, red-looking conjunctiva (white portion of the eye). This can be initiated by bacteria, dust, pollen and debris in the air.
A related problem and now more commonly found in Virginia is Eosinophilic Kerititis. This causes pain, severe purities and corneal ulceration. This syndrome is thought to have immune/allergic causes, so must be differentiated from more typical ulcers. Treatment is different and often complicated.
The last condition is anterior uveitis. Anterior uveitis is a term which means that the front portion of the eye has inflammation within it. This presents in many different ways but typically includes eyelid swelling, increased pain, tearing and a discoloration or white-to-bluish hue over the cornea. It can involve one eye or both. Treatment options range dramatically depending on the severity.
So as you can see (no pun intended!), many eye issues look the same, but are treated very differently. Early and proper therapy is crucial to a positive outcome!