Everything You Wanted To Know About Bob Costas’s Olympic Pinkeye

Bob Costas has a case of mild pinkeye at the Sochi Olympics. Here’s what we know.

The 2014 Sochi Olympics, known thus far for Olga Graf’s slight cleavage and Putin’s ‎massive slights, finally has an Olympic Moment to cherish. It’s one for the ages; a sure-fire where-were-you-when event.

Bob Costas has pink eye.

Yes, NBC’s veteran sports reporter, who seems to sip from the Dick Clark ‎fountain of frisky youth, has sidelined himself because of the discomfort from his inflamed eyes. And in truth he looks rather ghoulish—pink and a little puffy—though that Costas voice is steady as ever as it crawls towards another witty comment.

How though could a guy like Costas, who presumably waits and waits and savors his biannual role as America’s Olympic sports maitre d, come down with a kid disease like pinkeye?

And could he—yikes—actually be not just inconvenienced but actually ill? And can we blame Putin and the Soviets and Khrushchev and all those Chechnyans so near the surreal Sochi landscape for the cashiering of one of our true America treasures?

Nah—he’s just got pinkeye.

My guess is he developed some irritation from flying and forgot to take his contact lenses out as he dozed off. Or perhaps he caught a mild viral form of pinkeye—medically known as conjunctivitis. No big deal after all. We—all of us—have had it and will again.

Sure as sure can be.

Speaking to The New York Times, Costas had this to say of his eye gone pink: “You hear it called pinkeye or conjunctivitis, but, as a practical matter, I haven’t had it before,” he said.“You have swelling and stinging and burning and eventually tearing. And last night was the most difficult night of the five. But when I left, I fully expected to be back tonight.”

That was yesterday. And as we all now know, it was Matt Lauer, in town for NBC’s Today, who would fill in.

Note that all eyes that are pink are not “pinkeye.” There are several other causes of pinkness though our God-given presence of a second eye often helps limit the possibilities. People with a single pinkish eye may have a physical irritation—an eyelash, a piece of grit—that causes tearing and inflammation. But two eyes at once—this really removes the explanation of a physical thing where it ought not to be and moves us into Costas territory.

More serious causes than can pinken, such as acute glaucoma or a condition called uveitis that involves the iris (or colored center of the eye), almost always is accompanied by big deal complaints.

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Not irritation and gooeyness but rather sharp knife-like pain, intense sensitivity to light, and marked vision distortions. Costas looked far too comfortable, pinkness and all, to imagine he is suffering from anything as worrying as either of these diagnoses.

So given his sangfroid ‎it is likely that Mr. Costas has old-fashioned pinkeye. According to the CDC and most texts, conjunctivitis has three distinct causes.

Two are infectious: these include viral causes, often due to adenovirus, which has no treatment other waiting it out and avoiding friends, and bacterial causes for which specific antibiotics are effective.

Viral causes made a recent appearance on the pop-radar with promotion of the hoax about oculolinctus (or “worming”), allegedly caused by kids in Japan who were sticking their tongues into each others’ eyeballs for some sort of erotic lift. But like so much of what is e-viral, there was nothing medically viral that was credible in the story.

Bacterial pathogens include gonorrhea (yes) which can cause blindness in a matter of hours, and chlamydia. Chlamydia globally remains a major cause of blindness; it occurs slowly over a decade or two as the low-grade infection and subsequent inflammation worsens ever so gradually. The mandate to place eyedrops (once silver-based drops but now simpler and cheaper antibiotics) into newborn babies’ eyes has made the disease vanish in the US but not elsewhere.

In addition to these infectious causes, conjunctivitis may occur from allergies—both allergies to various pollens afloat in the air or from chemicals (like eyedrops) that are placed into the eye. Usually time and more time will clear this up, though once in a while, a person may require some steroid drops. And someone may start with a simple viral cause, get drops that are themselves irritating, and end up with a chemical conjunctivitis on top of an infectious one. Pity the poor ophthalmologist—there is no way clinically to distinguish among all the different causes, though in general when there’s real crust in the eye in the morning (not a speck or two but a gross-out amount), we typically give antibiotic drops.

As to Bob Costas’ Olympic future—well he may be sidelined for a bit and miss the remainder of the XXIInd Winter Olympiad at Sochi (motto: Hot. Cool. Yours; mascots: polar bear, leopard, hare, one creepier than the next).

Ah well, with all of the build-up regarding a burgeoning retro-Soviet contempt for the West including possible terrorist threats, boycotts, and hostile soldiers rounding up stray dogs, it is assuring that the story of the Olympics is not pinkos at all but rather a simple case of mild pinkeye.