Updated on  February 20, 2024
6 min read

What Are the Uses of Erythromycin Eye Ointment?

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What is Erythromycin Eye Ointment?

Erythromycin ophthalmic ointment is a medication that treats certain bacterial eye infections. It contains the active ingredient erythromycin, which belongs to a group of medications called macrolide antibiotics.

Erythromycin Eye Ointment in tube pictured on white table background

Common brand names for this medication include:

  • Ilotycin Ophthalmic
  • Romycin Ophthalmic
  • PremierPro RX Erythromycin

Generic versions of this drug are also available. Erythromycin is only obtainable with a doctor’s prescription.

What Infections Does Erythromycin Eye Ointment Treat?

This medication treats bacterial infections of the eye. It’s not effective against viral or fungal infections.

Erythromycin ophthalmic ointment is commonly prescribed for:

Bacterial Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye

Bacterial conjunctivitis

This is an infection of the conjunctiva, the transparent membrane that covers the front of your eye and lines the eyelids. Ophthalmic erythromycin ointment helps eliminate the bacteria causing the infection.  

Bacterial Keratitis

This is an infection of the cornea, the clear dome covering the front part of your eye. Your doctor may prescribe erythromycin ophthalmic ointment to treat certain cases of bacterial keratitis.

Neonatal Conjunctivitis

Also called ophthalmia neonatorum, this bacterial eye infection affects newborn babies. Erythromycin ointment is commonly used as a harmless, cost-effective way to prevent blindness in newborns.3

During childbirth, bacteria from chlamydia and gonorrhea infections can enter a newborn’s eyes. Both conditions can progress rapidly and cause irreversible damage to an infant’s eyes, even if neither parent shows symptoms.

For this reason, erythromycin is typically applied to babies’ eyes shortly after birth as a preventive measure. 

How Effective is Erythromycin Eye Ointment?

The effectiveness of erythromycin ophthalmic ointment varies based on several factors, including the individual and the condition being treated.3-5,7

Many healthcare providers support using erythromycin ointments to prevent eye infections in newborn babies.3-5 However, research shows that other treatments, including silver nitrate and tetracycline, are equally as effective as erythromycin.7 

Is Erythromycin the Best Antibiotic for Eye Infections?

That depends on the individual and the type of infection. Bacteria can become resistant to erythromycin, which leads to decreased effectiveness.2 

Erythromycin is one of several antibiotic eye ointments used to treat bacterial eye infections. Your doctor about the best option for you and your particular needs.

How to Use Erythromycin Eye Ointment

This medication should only be applied to the eye. Follow the instructions on your prescription label carefully. Ask your doctor or pharmacist any questions you may have.

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to use the ointment:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. 
  2. Open the ointment tube. Be careful not to touch the tube tip to your eye or any other surface, as this may cause contamination.
  3. Tilt your head back and gently pull down the lower eyelid of the infected eye with your index finger. This should create a small pocket between your eye and the lower lid.
  4. Squeeze a small amount of ointment — about ½ inch or 1 centimeter, unless otherwise directed by your doctor — into the pocket. Avoid touching the tube to your eye or eyelashes. 
  5. Gently close your eyes for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the medicine to spread. Your vision may be temporarily blurred for a few minutes afterward. Don’t drive or do anything that requires clear vision until the blurriness subsides.
  6. Replace the ointment tube cap and close it tightly. 
  7. Use a clean tissue to remove excess ointment from your eyelids and lashes. 
  8. Rewash your hands to avoid spreading the infection. 

Continue using this medication regularly until you finish the prescription, even if your symptoms disappear. If you stop using it before the infection is completely cured, the bacteria may develop resistance to the antibiotic.1

How Often Should Erythromycin Eye Ointment Be Applied? 

Erythromycin ophthalmic ointment usually gets applied up to six times a day.1 However, you should follow the specific instructions provided by your health care provider. They may recommend a different dosage or frequency based on your specific needs. 

Don’t use more or less of the ointment or apply it more often than your doctor tells you to. 

What if You Miss a Dose?

If you miss a dose, apply it as soon as you remember. But if it’s almost time for your next dose, take only that dose. Skip the missed dose and proceed with your regular dosing schedule. 

Don’t use double or extra doses to make up for a missed dose. 

Other Safety Precautions

Before prescribing erythromycin ophthalmic ointment, your doctor will take a complete medical history. Make sure to tell them if you:

  • Have had an allergic reaction. To erythromycin, ingredients in erythromycin, or any other medications.
  • Take any other drugs. Including prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins or other dietary supplements, herbal products, and other eye medications.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding. Call your doctor if you become pregnant while taking erythromycin ophthalmic ointment. 
  • Wear soft contact lenses. Don’t wear contact lenses while you have an eye infection. 

What are the Side Effects of Erythromycin Eye Ointment?

Erythromycin ophthalmic ointment may cause side effects. Call your doctor if you experience any severe symptoms that don’t go away. 

Common Symptoms

Common side effects include:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Stinging or burning of the eye
  • Temporarily blurred vision after applying the ointment

Serious Symptoms

Severe allergic reactions to erythromycin are rare but serious. Seek emergency medical care if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

  • Rash or hives 
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Swelling of the face, tongue, or throat 

These are symptoms of a potentially life-threatening medical condition called anaphylaxis. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How should I store erythromycin eye ointment?

Store your ointment in the container it came in with the lid tightly closed. Keep it away from children and pets. 

This medication should be kept at room temperature. Don’t expose it to freezing temperatures or high heat.

Dispose of any medicine that’s expired or no longer needed. Don’t flush it down the toilet. Ask your area’s pharmacist or local waste disposal department about medicine take-back programs. 

What do I do in case of an overdose?

This medication may be harmful if swallowed. If someone has overdosed and is experiencing serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, call 911. In other cases, U.S. residents can call their local poison control center at 1-800-222-122. 

Will erythromycin ophthalmic ointment cure all cases of pink eye? 

No. Erythromycin ointment only treats cases of pink eye that are caused by bacteria. It won’t be effective against viral or allergic pink eye.

How does erythromycin kill bacteria?

Erythromycin doesn’t directly destroy bacteria. It’s a bacteriostatic antibiotic, which means it inhibits further growth of bacteria. It does this by interfering with protein synthesis in the bacteria. 

Is it okay to use erythromycin ophthalmic ointment for all eye infections?

No. You should only use this eye medication to treat the infection your doctor prescribed it for. Don’t use it to relieve other eye symptoms; don’t share your medication with anyone else. 

Summary

Erythromycin ophthalmic ointment is an eye medication used to treat bacterial infections. It’s also commonly used to prevent blindness in newborn babies shortly after birth. 

This article is a summary and may only cover some possible information about erythromycin ophthalmic ointment. 

Always follow your doctor’s instructions for taking ophthalmic erythromycin or any other prescription medicine. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain anything you don’t understand about taking this medication. 

Updated on  February 20, 2024
7 sources cited
Updated on  February 20, 2024
  1. Erythromycin Ophthalmic.” National Library of Medicine, 2017.

  2. Farzam et al. “Erythromycin.” StatPearls, 2022.

  3. Hill, D.L. “Erythromycin Ointment.” American Academy of Pediatrics, 2012.

  4. Prevent Newborns’ Eye Infection With Antibiotic Ointment.” American Academy of Family Physicians, 2018. 

  5. Ocular Prophylaxis for Gonococcal Ophthalmia Neonatorum: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Reaffirmation Recommendation Statement.” JAMA, 2019. 

  6. Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) in Newborns.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.

  7. Smith-Norowitz et al. “Neonatal prophylaxis with antibiotic containing ointment does not reduce incidence of chlamydial conjunctivitis in newborns.”

The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.