Eye Infections: What You Need To Know

What is an Eye Infection?

Eye Infections are eye ailments caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal agents. There are many different types of eye infections, with different causes and treatments. All parts of the eye are susceptible to infection. Eye infections can affect one or both eyes, and can occur in people of all ages. Symptoms can include irritation, redness, discharge, and reduced vision. Treatment typically depends on the cause. Let’s go over the possible causes of eye infections now.

What Causes an Eye Infection?

Eye infections can affect any part of the eyes, from the eyelids to the cornea, and even the retina in the back of the eye. Eye infections are so common that most of us either have had an eye infection or know someone who has had one. Eye infections can be bacterial, viral, or fungal. People who wear contact lenses are particularly susceptible to eye infections due to the decrease in oxygen reaching their corneas and due to bacterial or fungal buildup caused by failure to properly disinfect their contact lenses. Some common eye infections are pink eye, blepharitis, and trachoma. Trachoma, which is more common in poor countries, is easily spread and can lead to blindness.

Eye infections are usually self-limiting, and most resolve with minimal or no treatment. Occasionally, they don’t resolve quickly, and lead to more severe problems that require some type of medication for treatment. Not all eye infections are dangerous, but some require a doctor’s immediate attention. If you believe you have an eye infection, you should seek the advice of an eye-care professional.

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Common Eye Infections

Eye Infection Symptoms

Eye Infection Treatment

To ensure that you receive the proper treatment for an eye infection, you must first get the correct diagnosis from an eye care professional. Because eye infections can be contagious, it is best to speak with an eye doctor about the possible cause and treatments, and your doctor should talk to you about ways to prevent spreading the infection. You may need prescription-strength medication to ensure that the infection resolves quickly.

In most cases, eye infection treatment includes compresses, eye drops, creams, or antibiotics. Topical antiviral therapy may be necessary if the eye infection is caused by a virus. A leading category of eye infections is pink eye, or conjunctivitis. Certain types of conjunctivitis are very contagious and require immediate attention from an eye doctor. Typically, treatment involves staying away from work or school, prescribed anti-infective topical solution or ointment, and warm or cool compresses to alleviate symptoms.

Depending on the cause, eye infections may last for days or weeks. In some cases, new symptoms may appear during treatment. If symptoms worsen, or if new, unexplained symptoms appear, you should contact your eye doctor immediately.

How to Avoid an Eye Infection

Many types of eye infections are spread easily from person to person. If you have an eye infection or must be around someone with an eye infection (a child, spouse, or coworker, for example) use these tips to help you avoid spreading it:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often; this is the most important and effective way to prevent the spread of pink eye to others.
  • Avoid touching your face and eyes; if you must apply medicine or make-up to the area around your eyes, wash your hands before and after the application.
  • Avoid eye make-up if so directed by your eye doctor; do not share eye make-up.
  • Do not share towels, wash cloths, pillows, or other linens; use clean linens daily.
  • If infected, do not wear contact lenses; clean and disinfect lenses and storage case thoroughly before using again; learn more about cleaning and disinfecting contact lenses.
  • Do not share contact lenses or accessories (solutions, cases, etc).
  • Do not share eye medicine; talk with your eye doctor about discarding or storing leftover medicines.
  • Always protect your eyes in windy, hot, dusty, or otherwise harsh environments.
  • Wear safety glasses or goggles when around chemicals.
  • If you touch someone else’s eye, wear gloves or wash your hands before and after.
  • Report any negative changes or new symptoms to your eye doctor immediately.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

Here are some questions to ask your eye doctor about eye infections:

  • What has caused my eye infection?
  • Can over-the-counter medication help me?
  • Do I need a prescription eye drop or pill?
  • Which treatment method do you recommend?
  • Will I need to miss school or work during treatment?
  • Is my eye infection contagious?
  • What tests will you need to run to determine what caused my eye infection?
  • What complications can arise from my eye infection?
  • What can I do to prevent the spread of my eye infection?

What’s New About Eye Infections?

A study released by Ophthalmology Times in June of 2009 suggested that eye bacteria are becoming more resistant to older antibiotics. During the course of the study, researchers examined 105 eyes that were to undergo refractive surgery. The most common bacteria species found was staphylococci. Swabs were taken of the bacteria, which was then cultured and exposed to the common antibiotics gatifloxacin, gemifloxacin, levofloxacin, moxifloxacin, and ofloxacin. Researchers found that the three most effective of these antibiotics were gemifloxacin, moxifloxacin, and gatifloxacin, although the other two also showed a resistance to the bacteria. At the conclusion of the study, Dr. Jae Lim Chung of Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea and his colleagues recommended the use of newer antibiotics to prevent post-surgical eye infections.

References:
  • J. Anshel, MD “Smart Medicine for Your Eyes” (SquareOne Publishers, 2011) 181:291
  • MDConsult Eye Infections Treatment http://www.mdconsult.com/
  • Ophthalmology Times, Eye Bacteria Getting More Resistant to Older Antibiotics
  • http://www.modernmedicine.com/modernmedicine/article/articleDetail.jsp?id=601743
This article was last updated on 09/2014