Vision Center is funded by our readers. We may earn commissions if you purchase something via one of our links.
In this article
Fungi, viruses, and bacteria all cause eye infections. Infections can be very contagious.
Antibiotic eye drops treat bacterial eye infections. They work by killing the bacteria causing the infection.
Antibiotic eye drops need to be prescribed by a doctor. They contain medicine that regular eye drops (artificial tears) don't have.
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, or allergic conjunctivitis. This will determine the most appropriate treatment course.
Another common eye infection is a stye. Most styes do not require medical treatment. But some remedies can make them less uncomfortable. For example, your doctor might recommend a topical treatment or artificial tears if your eyes are dry and irritated.
Symptoms of eye infections include:
Antibacterial eye drops are used to treat various kinds of eye infections. They work by killing the bacteria that cause eye infections and stopping them from spreading.
Antibiotic eye drops are used to treat bacterial eye infections. Other types of medication are used to treat viral, fungal, and allergic infections.
Your doctor may prescribe you antibiotic eye drops if you have:
Bacterial conjunctivitis is very contagious. This is why infections like pink eye spread so quickly among young children in schools and daycare.
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.
Styes cause inflammation at the edge of the eyelid. They are red and painful. Staphylococcus bacteria cause styes, which occur when bacteria build 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 only treat 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.
Antibacterial eye drops treat eye infections such as bacterial conjunctivitis, contact lens infections, styes, and chalazion. They do not work against viruses, fungi, or allergic reactions.
The different types of antibiotic eye drops include:
There are different types of antibiotic eye drops, including:
Each of these has different action mechanisms. 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.
Many types of antibiotics can kill streptococcal bacteria. Staphylococcal bacteria can develop a resistance to some antibiotics. In these cases, your doctor must select a stronger antibiotic.
Sometimes a topical or oral antibiotic may be necessary to treat your bacterial eye infection. They may be prescribed in addition to or instead of an antibiotic eye drop.
Topical and oral antibiotics used to treat eye infections include:
Antibiotic eye drops are not available over-the-counter. A doctor must prescribe them.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are often used to treat symptoms of styes, chalazion, and other infections. They come in eye drop, ointment, or oral forms. They are available without a prescription.
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 can relieve 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 and home treatments for eye infections, including:
Again, these treatments do not kill bacteria and will not cure the problem. They do, however, make the problem more manageable.
They are considered homeopathic treatments that the FDA has not evaluated for effectiveness.
Doctors consider antibiotic eye drops safe and effective. But 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:
Over-the-counter eye drops do not kill bacteria; they merely relieve the signs and symptoms associated with an eye infection. A bacterial eye infection would need prescription antibacterial eye drops like azithromycin and clarithromycin. These are generally safe when used as prescribed. See your doctor immediately for severe side effects like blurred vision or inflammation of the iris.
Eye health is essential, and you should take it as seriously as all other medical conditions. Do not ignore an eye infection if it lasts for more than two days.
Speak to your ophthalmologist if you believe you have a bacterial eye infection. They will prescribe antibiotic medication to treat the infection. In most cases, medication will be in the form of eye drops or ointments.
In this article
All Vision Center content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed optometrist to ensure the information is factual and meets industry standards.
We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from recent scientific research, scholarly articles, textbooks, government agencies, optometry websites, and medical journals.