Fungi, viruses, and bacteria all cause eye infections. Infection occurs in all parts of the eye and can be in one or both eyes. They may or may not affect vision. Some eye infections are contagious and spread when someone touches something contaminated by someone with an infection and then touches their own eye.
The most common eye infection is pink eye, also called conjunctivitis. It’s essential to seek medical attention for conjunctivitis because it’s very contagious. A doctor will determine if you have bacterial conjunctivitis, viral conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis, and suggest the most appropriate treatment course.
Symptoms of pink eye and other infections include:
Another common eye infection is a stye. Most styes do not require medical treatment, but some remedies can make dealing with one less uncomfortable. For example, your doctor might recommend a topical treatment or artificial tears if your eyes are dry and irritated.
In general, treatment for bacterial eye infections varies, including drops, creams, warm compresses, or antibiotics. Most bacterial infections require medical treatment in the affected eye or eyes. People who wear contact lenses have a higher risk of eye infections.
Antibiotic eye drops treat bacterial eye infections. They require a prescription. The drops kill the microscopic bacteria in the eye that is causing the infection.
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Antibiotic eye drops are needed to kill the bacteria causing the infection and stop the bacteria's spread. They are most commonly used to treat:
Bacterial conjunctivitis is very contagious. This is why infections like pink eye spread so quickly among young children in schools and day care.
It’s also important to kill bacteria causing a contact-lens infection. Sleeping in contact lenses is one of the most common causes of bacterial eye infections.
Hordeolum, most commonly called styes, causes inflammation at the edge of the eyelid. They are red and painful. Staphylococcus bacteria cause styes, which occur when bacteria builds up in an oil gland near the base of an eyelash.
Chalazion, which are similar to styes, are cysts deep in the eyelid. Inflammation from blocked meibomian glands causes chalazion. This blockage can lead to staphylococcus bacteria entering the gland opening.
Antibiotic treatments are only needed for treating bacterial eye infections. They won’t help with viral infections or fungal infections or if you have an allergic reaction. For eye problems in these categories, you’ll need antihistamines or antiviral medications.
There are different types of antibiotic eye drops, including:
Each of these has different action mechanisms, and not all of them will cure all bacterial eye infections. For example, topical antibiotics often will not cure a stye. In some cases, two or three may be combined into a single formulation to treat an infection comprehensively.
Prescription eye drops work best for curing bacterial eye infection. Staphylococcal bacteria are known for developing resistance to some antibiotics, rendering certain eye drops ineffective against this bacteria. If your doctor suspects your eye infection may be related to staphylococcal bacteria, they must select an antibiotic that is more effective against this type of bacteria, such as trimethoprim.
If streptococcal bacteria, as opposed to staph, causes an eye infection, several antibiotic eye drops work. Some of the most common prescription antibiotics (oral or topical) used to treat bacterial eye infections that are not styes or chalazion include:
Over-the-counter medications are frequently used to treat styes and chalazion, both of which are antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These medications are available without a doctor’s prescription. They come in drop and ointment forms.
Keep in mind, OTC medications do not cure stye or chalazion. They alleviate the discomfort and allow the problem to heal without interfering with your vision or daily life.
Ibuprofen is an OTC medication that can reduce inflammation and discomfort related to styes and chalazia.
Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal synthetic compound that relieves eye pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen does not cure or shorten the lifespan of a stye or a chalazion. Instead, it reduces pain and swelling. It is especially useful for treating chalazion because they tend to be more painful than styes.
In addition to ibuprofen, there are numerous OTC treatments for styes and chalazion, including:
Again, these medications do not kill bacteria and will not heal or cure the problem. However, they make the problem easier to deal with as it heals on its own. They are also homeopathic treatments that have not been evaluated by the FDA for effectiveness.
Doctors consider antibiotic eye drops safe and effective. However, like all medications, there are side effects. The most common side effects associated with antibiotic eye drops include:
Infrequent but more severe side effects include:
Rare side effects include:
You should speak to your ophthalmologist if you believe you have a bacterial eye infection. He or she will prescribe antibiotic medication to treat the infection. In most cases, medication will be in the form of eye drops or ointments.
Some of the most common eye infection drops and ointments include:
Eye health is essential and you should take it as seriously as all other medical conditions.
“Antibiotic Eye Drops.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 1 Aug. 2019, https://www.aao.org/eye-health/treatments/antibiotic-eye-drops.
“Eye Infections.” Medlineplus.Gov, https://medlineplus.gov/eyeinfections.html.