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Chinese Eye Flu
Chinese eye flu is not a common occurrence, but most people who live in Canton will suffer from this two or three times in their lives. It is not life-threatening nor will it cause any permanent damage to the eyes. However, it is extremely debilitating over the couple of days when it reaches is peak.


You will have been in physical contact with somebody who has red and swollen eyes, and the infection can be spread by touching common objects such as a handrail.

It is likely this person will be a member of your own household, and in our case (September 2010) it was our 9-month old daughter who contracted it first - probably after a routine hospital visit for another vaccination.

My personal guess is that the incubation period is 2-days before any signs show outwardly. During this period the disease can be spread, even though you are as yet unaware you have been infected. This happened to my wife's Mother. The first signs of infection are a reddening of the eyes, quickly followed by a sensation of irritation around the inner eyelids. I would liken it to feeling as if you have several sty's in your eye at the same time.


As soon as you notice anything similar to above we suggest you go immediately to see your local Doctor, there will be one at any public or private hospital. Foreigners should normally use a private facility and pay a little extra for immediate service.

Within hours of noticing the red eyeball discolouration and uncomfortable feeling, this quickly develops to feeling as if both your eyes are full of sharp sand. This is accompanied by swelling and quite intense itching, and is made worse the more you move your eyes. Rubbing your eyes will quickly make this a lot worse.

We all reacted slightly differently to this infection:

A. Our young daughter appeared least affected with her eyes clearing on day four. She had little discomfort and didn't cry, whilst sleeping well.

B. My wife, who had suffered this once before when she was 8-years old, suffered severe headaches, probably due to the eyeballs or surrounding tissue becoming inflamed and pressurizing the eyeballs. She could not sleep at all on the first night. Whilst still looking a sorry sight, she stated the main infection lasted a little over 2-days, although it takes 5-days to completely clear.

C. I contracted it more slowly than the others, to the point where my wife had to insist I accompany them to hospital for treatment. I am extremely glad I did! My right eye became infected about 5-hours before my left for some reason. I slept fine and did not really notice a headache - but I did suffer from a short fever, being hot one minute and cold the next. I also experienced the mild muscle tightness associated with a fever, which makes you enjoy stretching them. However, my eyes became so infected that I could not open them properly for around 12 hours and my eyeballs were very tender and itchy. In my case this was also accompanied by a mild head cold, but nothing serious.


The hospital Doctor was great and said there was a local epidemic going round these days. She prescribed injections - mine given at the top of my bum, whilst my wife had hers administered via a I-V drip. Rhiannon had a small jab in her arm. All of us then had our eyes washed out by a lovely nurse, and we departed with packages of pills and eye drops. Chinese tend to have a lot of pills, and each sachet contains the pills to be taken each time - in our case 3 times per day. Our daughter was given a more traditional mix, with little folded paper packets containing crushed medicines that are mixed with warm water to make a tonic. The charge for treatment and medicines was less than Y100 each.

Chinese Medicine

Vine Leaf Soup

The standard local cure for eye infections is to boil a pot of leaves that look like some form of short vine. They are left in a vat of water to simmer for over an hour, and the resulting amber fluid is drunk when cold. It tastes very nice actually, and I have eaten this as a vegetable and combined soup on previous occasions, where is is only cooked for 10-minutes. The infusion is taken every few hours, and you are supposed to drink a large mug of it every time. If you try this, then know it is also OK to eat the leaves which are quite tasty; but this is not required.

Herbal Goo

This is more a Traditional Chinese Medicine, and looks like something you would expect to find in a brackish puddle along a forest trail after heavy rain. The dry ingredients are bought from Chinese Medicinal stalls, and mixed together with a lot of water, and then simmered for a couple of hours.

The resultant liquid is drained-off and consumed in large quantities quite frequently = a pint every 2-hours or so. Despite its looks, it is actually very pleasant and reminds me of the taste of real licorice - that's the twigs of the actual bush we used to buy when I was a kid. However, it is sweeter than simple licorice and goes down well.

With so many things flooding my system it is hard to detect what was most effective, but I noticed immediate improvement a few hours after taking this last concoction. It also produced some flatulence, which is great fun for boys and babies!

Eye Drops

My wife also got hold of some special eye drops from the same supplier, and these worked for me. The small plain container had to be kept in the fridge, but the clear liquid inside really soothed my sore eyes immediately.


I am pretty certain the incubation period is about 2-days before any symptoms appear. Once they do it quickly develops over the next 12 hours. The next 24 hours can be extremely discomfortable, and you may want to refrain from doing anything that involves eye movement.

Do not rub your eyes, as this only makes things worse. I took to rinsing my eyes with water, simply because our Optrex had disappeared during one of our many moves. I would then re-apply the Traditional Medicine eye drops and enjoy a couple of hours partial relief.

After 48 hours the main symptoms should have eased greatly, but the condition will persist for up to 5 days in total, not counting the incubation period. During this time you should continue with medicines and eye drops.


If any readers are smokers, then please be aware the smoke from cigarettes greatly inflames the eye irritation - to the point where you may want to only smoke outdoors and in a windy place.
Image: Chinese pills, 1 packet 3 times per day - Click to Enlarge

Image: Traditional folded paper medicines with whitch to make a tonic - Click to Enlarge

Image: My bill top and Siu Ying's bottom - Click to Enlarge

Image: Vine type leaves used as a medicine - Click to Enlarge

Image: Vine Leaves Soup - Click to Enlarge

Image: Traditional Chinese Medicine, eye flu remedy - Click to Enlarge

Image: Traditional Chinese Medicine, eye flu tonic - Click to Enlarge

Image: A selection of Chinese eye drops - Click to Enlarge


Cleanliness will not prevent this disease, but good practice will reduce the symptoms. Wash hands regularly, preferably with a proprietary brand anti-bacterial soap.

Related Pages:
To read about how this affected Jonno and his family, please see his missive:
'A Visit to See the Doctor'
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