Did you know staphylococcus bacteria, commonly known as staph, are friendly to your body? According to scientists, staph species like Staphylococcus hominis and Staphylococcus epidermis or even Staphylococcus aureus are among thousands of good germs that prevent skin infections.
However, even these beneficial germs can become infectious if they overgrow or access inner tissues and cells. For example, although Staphylococcus aureus is linked to retinal cell survival in optic neuritis patients, this bacteria can negatively affect your skin, blood (bacteremia), joints (septic arthritis), or eyelids (blepharitis).1
In this article, we’ll discuss staph infections on the eyelid and give insights into:
- The different types of staph infections of the eye
- The causes of staph infections on the eyelid
- Symptoms of staph infections and effects on vision
- Treatment options for staph infection on the eyelid
What is a Staph Infection on the Eyelid?
Staph infection on the eyelid is one of the most common causes of eyelid inflammation (blepharitis). It occurs when a bacterial species known as Staphylococcus aureus invades the delicate eyelid skin, causing swelling, pain, ulceration, and sometimes, vision issues.
Clinical experts may refer to the infection as staphylococcal blepharitis. Staphylococcal blepharitis is rarely contagious. However, spreading staph bacteria through skin-to-skin contact or contact with infected surfaces is possible.
What are the Symptoms of Staph Infection?
Staph infections elicit a variety of symptoms depending on the affected eye part. Common symptoms of eyelid infection include:
- A painful, raised red bump in or on the eyelid (stye/hordeolum)
- Broken eyelashes or loss of eyelashes
- Burning or stinging sensation on the infected eyelid
- Redness and irritation at the lid margin
- Swelling on the eyelid
- Sores or scarring on the eyelids
- Oily eyelids
- A sensation of a foreign substance in the eyes
- Dryness/ flaking of the skin around the eyes
- Sticky eyelids
- Dry eyes
- Collarettes. Rings of flakes lining the lid margin/base of the eyelash
- Yellow or green discharge on the lash line
Warning: Contains Medical ImagesSee Photos
It’s necessary to consult your doctor if you suspect anything unusual with your eyes. Diagnosing and treating staphylococcal blepharitis early can save you a lot of pain and discomfort.
Are There Different Types of Staph Infections in the Eye?
Apart from staphylococcal blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid), Staph bacteria can also cause the following eye infections:2
- Dacryocystitis. An infection of the nasolacrimal sac (tear sac) often due to blockage of the tear duct3
- Hordeolum. Painful bumps in or on your eyelid (also called stye)
- Chalazion. A painless pea-like lump in the upper or lower eyelid caused by blocked oil glands on the eyelid.
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye). Bacterial conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that covers the eyeball's surface and lines the eyelids' inside
- Keratitis. Inflammation of the cornea (the clear front part of the eye) that requires immediate medical attention to avoid vision loss
- Endophthalmitis. Infection of the eyeball fluids (vitreous and aqueous humor); although it’s not common, endophthalmitis can threaten your sight
All these conditions can turn serious if not treated. You’ll need a complete eye examination to determine the affected area and course of treatment.
What Causes a Staph Infection on the Eyelid?
The bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is the cause of staph infection on the eyelid. S. aureus is commonly found in healthy skin.
However, it becomes a problem when the population grows or if it gets into the inner tissues of the eye. The skin in and around the eye is sensitive.
How Do Staph Infections Spread?
Your eyes may come into contact with staph bacteria through the following ways:
- Skin-to-eye contact. Rubbing your eyes with unclean hands can transfer harmful bacteria
- Touching infected skin. If you have a staph infection in another part of your body, touching the area and then touching your eyes can transfer the bacteria to the eyelids
- Ocular surgery. The trauma associated with surgery makes your eyes prone to bacterial infection
- Contact with a contaminated surface. Touching a surface contaminated by an infected individual and then touching your eyes
How Do Underlying Conditions Contribute to the Infection?
People with certain health conditions have an increased risk of opportunistic staph infections that can spread to the eyes. For example, people with cancer (especially those undergoing chemotherapy) have compromised immunity and are susceptible to staph infections.
Other conditions include:4,5
- Diabetes requiring insulin use
- Kidney failure requiring dialysis
- Respiratory illnesses (e.g., cystic fibrosis and emphysema)
How Can Staph Infection Affect Vision?
Staph bacteria can be dangerous to your vision if treatment is delayed. The bacteria can infect delicate eye parts necessary for healthy vision, such as the cornea, vitreous chamber, tear ducts, and conjunctiva.
Vision-associated symptoms of a staph infection include:
How is a Staph Infection on the Eyelid Treated?
It’s important to consult your eye doctor before treating staphylococcal infections in or on the eye. Your doctor will determine the severity of the damage and recommend the proper medication.
Common treatments for staph infections on the eyelid include:
- Antibiotics. These may be in the form of ointments, eye drops, or pills. Common antibiotics for staph infections include erythromycin, gentamicin, tetracycline, and bacitracin. Clean your eyes with warm water and mild soap before applying topical antibiotic ointments.
- Electromechanical lid margin debridement(surgery). When the infection causes a biofilm to grow and build up on the lid margin, debridement is done to remove contaminated tissue. This treatment is helpful in dry eye blepharitis syndrome (DEBS) cases.6
- Thermal pulsation. This treatment can relieve dry eye symptoms associated with staph infections. Heat is applied to the eyelids to improve drainage in the meibomian glands, which facilitates eye lubrication.
Home Remedies for Staph Infection on Eyelids
There are several methods of treating staphylococcal blepharitis at home. These work best especially for mild infections:
1. Apply Warm Compresses
Warm compresses can reduce inflammation in the infected area. Hold a wet warm washcloth or heating pad over the affected eye for about 20 minutes. Do this at least four times daily as symptoms persist.
2. Clean the Infected Eye
You must keep the infected area clean to prevent further spreading or worsening infection. Wash your eyelids using prescription cleansers or over-the-counter eyelid cleaning pads like the OCuSOFT Lid scrub.
The pads remove pollen, oil, and other unwanted debris along the lash line that can promote bacterial growth. Tea tree oil (5% or lower) has also been identified as an effective way to minimize eye irritation.7
3. Take Pain killers
Painkillers will help with the pain and discomfort associated with the staphylococcal blepharitis infection, making the healing process manageable. Common painkillers include acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil). These should be used as labeled or as directed by a medical professional.
4. Avoid Eye Makeup
Eye makeup like mascara and eyeliner has the potential to harbor staph bacteria. Avoid applying anything on the eyes until the symptoms of infection are completely gone.
Preventing Staph Infections on the Eyelid
Staphylococcal blepharitis can be severe, but there are simple ways to protect your eyes. Prevent eyelid staph infections by doing the following:
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water
- Avoid accidentally touching your eyes with contaminated hands
- Clean your hands before applying makeup or when inserting or removing your contact lens
- Avoid wearing contacts while treating a staph infection
- Clean your hands thoroughly after handling a staph-infected wound
- Clean your contact lenses after each use and store them in their proper case with lens solution to avoid bacterial growth
- Avoid sharing towels, eye masks, or any items that come into contact with an infected person’s face or eyes (especially if they have a stye)
- Keep your eyelids clean
You can promote a healthy ocular surface by visiting your eye doctor regularly. A comprehensive eye exam will go a long way in early diagnosis and treatment of staphylococcus blepharitis.
Complications of Staph Infections on the Eyelid
Staphylococcal blepharitis can cause several complications:
- Sepsis (bacteremia).8 This occurs if the bacteria gain access to your bloodstream. The bacteria can reach the heart (endocarditis), joints, bones, lungs, etc. Severe cases can lead to septic shock, which is fatal.
- Styes. These painful boil-like lumps occur due to infection of the eyelash follicles (eyelash roots).
- Eye infections. The infection may spread to other parts of the eye, such as the cornea (bacterial keratitis), conjunctiva (conjunctivitis), tear sac (dacryocystitis), and eyeball fluids (endophthalmitis).
- Blindness. Severe infection can damage eye parts essential for vision. If left untreated, vision loss is possible.
How Does Chronic Blepharitis Relate to Staph Infection on the Eyelid?
Chronic blepharitis can become staphylococci blepharitis due to the S. aureus bacteria. Staphylococci blepharitis requires urgent medical care.
Chronic blepharitis occurs when oily glands on the eyelids become clogged, causing irritation, redness, crusting, and other uncomfortable symptoms. The condition isn’t contagious, but it can be very uncomfortable.
Blepharitis can contribute to other eye conditions like dry eyes, inflammation of the ocular surface, and corneal ulcers. Milder cases are less disruptive to the eye surface.
- Staph infection on the eyelid is the most common cause of eyelid inflammation (blepharitis). It’s caused by Staphylococcus aureus.
- S. aureus invades the eyelid skin, causing swelling, pain, ulceration, redness, and vision issues.
- You can get a staph infection on your eyelid through contact with contaminated skin or surfaces.
- Available treatments for staph infection on the eyelids include antibiotics and painkillers. Home remedies include warm compress, debridement, and thermal pulsation.
- Preventive measures include regular eye exams, proper hand and eye hygiene, and avoiding contact with contaminated objects.
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