Science

Tarantula owners advised to cover eyes

Tarantula owners should wear goggles when handling the pets, ophthalmologists advise.

Tarantula owners are advised to don goggles when handling the pets, ophthalmologists say.

The warning comes after a 29-year-old man went to hospital last February with a three-week history of a red, watery and light-sensitive eye that did not clear up with antibiotics.

When doctors examined the eye under high magnification, they found hair-like projections at varying depths within the cornea, Dr. Zia Carrim of St. James's University Hospital in Leeds, England, and his colleagues said in a case report in Saturday's issue of the medical journal The Lancet.

After doctors described the hairs to the patient, he immediately recalled an incident three weeks earlier.

The man had been cleaning the glass tank of his pet Chilean rose tarantula. While the owner was focused on removing a stubborn stain, he sensed movement in the terrarium, turned his head, and found the spider had released "a mist of hairs" that hit his eyes and face.

The hairs were too small to remove even with the smallest forceps, and he was treated with topical steroids.

'Collaborative approach'

"This case highlights the importance of a collaborative approach between doctor and patient in providing good clinical care," the authors concluded.

"The condition described is rare and the correct diagnosis was made only after we discussed the clinical findings with the patient. Finally, we suggest that tarantula keepers be advised to routinely wear eye protection when handling these animals."

As of August, the man still complained of mild discomfort and intermittent floaters, but his eye was no longer red and his vision had improved.

The Chilean rose tarantula has hairs that it dislodges as a defence against potential predators. Multiple barbs allow the hairs to move through eye tissues and other surfaces, the doctors said.

The man now wears eye protection before handling the tarantula.

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