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Home / Eye Infections

Eye Infections

Causes, Symptoms and Treatments of Conjunctivitis and Other Eye Infections

Eye Infections cannot only be a nuisance, but in some cases, highly detrimental to your eye health. If you're experiencing symptoms, you can complete a quick online consultation here and wait for our doctor's recommendation. Many eye infections can be cleared with eye drops.

Dr. Sarah Donald Clinical Lead MBChB MRCGP DFSRH DRCOG (GMC Reg: 6099482)

What are eye infections?

Eye infections are a common, but serious, ailment. They should be treated quickly and efficiently to avoid damage to the eye itself and relieve any discomfort.

These infections can present in several ways, including itching, colour change or discharge. The symptoms depend on the type of infection and the area that's affected.

Eye infections (like other infections) are caused by microorganisms within the body. These bacteria, viruses or fungi invade the eyeball and the surrounding area, causing a range of symptoms.

This can make it difficult to self-diagnose eye infections and decide which treatment to take.

Eye infections spread through contact with an infected individual or contaminated surface, other illnesses (such as sinus or ear infection), or allergens or irritants in some cases.

You are at a much higher risk of eye infection if you use contact lenses. As soon as you suspect that you have an eye infection, you should stop wearing your contacts until the infection has completely cleared.

You are also at a high risk if you have a weakened immune system from taking certain medications (e.g. steroids), have HIV, AIDs or other conditions that may affect your immune system.

The consequences of leaving an eye infection untreated can be severe. The infection may cause damage to the retina, formation of scars and ulcers in the cornea, or even provoke glaucoma. All of these can lead to complete or partial sight loss.

An eye infection may also point to an underlying illness you may be unaware of. For example, chlamydia can cause eye infections. If untreated, this disease can also cause infertility and heart damage, so it's always best to get persistent eye infections checked by a medical professional.

What causes eye infections?

There are three main causes of eye infections:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Fungi

These all result in different types of infection and have very different causes.

A doctor or ophthalmologist can usually tell you which type of infection you have contracted and recommend a suitable course of treatment.

The most common types of eye infection include:

Pinkeye (conjunctivitis): This is an infection of the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the eyelids (the conjunctiva).

It usually gives the whites of the eye a pink tint and emits a sticky discharge. In some cases, the eyelids can crust over.

This infection can be caused by bacteria, a virus, allergen or irritant. Young children who get viral conjunctivitis often experience bacterial conjunctivitis at the same time, so treatment in this case may take a little longer.

It is very common to get conjunctivitis when you already have a cold or illness. The infection will often start in one eye and then spread to another.

Pinkeye is highly contagious, so you should be aware that you can easily infect others. Children often pick up this infection at schools and playgrounds.

Keratitis: This infects the cornea and is caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites in water.

Individuals who wear contact lenses that do not clean their hands properly often experience it, or individuals that keep their lenses in for too long.

People with keratitis experience eye redness, pain and excess tears or discharge from the eye. Many also experience visual disturbances and an increased sensitivity to light.

Sty: This infection results in painful red bumps under the eyelid or on the base of the eyelashes. It usually forms on the outside of the eyelid but can sometimes form on the inner eyelid.

It is caused by oil glands becoming infected with bacteria and forming lumps, which are often filled with pus.

Fungal eye infections: These infections occur rarely, but if you expect fungi may be the cause of your discomfort you must seek treatment immediately.

Fungal eye infections are most likely to occur after an eye injury, especially if your eye came into contact with plant material (e.g. a stick or thorn).

You may also get a fungal eye infection if you wear contacts and don't clean them properly.

Uveitis: Infections in the middle layer of your eye, the uvea, can cause pain or changes to vision and are often linked to inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. However, this type of infection is extremely rare.

To be sure which type of eye infection you have, a doctor will need to examine your eye. They may take tissue or fluid samples and send it to the lab for further analysis.

What are the symptoms of eye infections?

The way eye infections present depends on the part of the eye that's affected. You may have symptoms in one or both of your eyes. Infections can occur in your:

  • Eyelid
  • Cornea - the clear film that covers the outside of the eye
  • Conjunctiva - the thin, moist area covering the outer eye and inner eyelids.

The core symptoms of eye infections are:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Itchy or dry eyes
  • Yellow, green or clear discharge - viral conjunctivitis is watery or mucous-like, bacterial is thick and white, yellow or green in colour
  • Pink colour in the whites of the eyes
  • Feeling like something's on or in the eye
  • Swollen, red or purple eyelids
  • Light sensitivity
  • Burning in the eyes
  • Small painful bumps under the eyelid, or at the base of the eyelashes
  • Eyelid that's tender to touch
  • Watery eyes
  • Crusty lashes and lids (especially in the morning)
  • Blurred vision
  • Fever
  • Trouble wearing contacts
  • Swollen lymph nodes near the ear

How to treat eye infections

There are many ways to treat eye infections.

Cool compresses can help relieve itchiness and discomfort. Take the compress and hold it on the affected eye for 20 minutes. When you remove it, dry the skin with a cloth then clean the compress before reuse.

Cream or ointment that can be spread on the eyelid and eye can also help treat symptoms. You should apply it as instructed in the accompanying leaflet, however the usual method is as follows:

  • Wash your hands and avoid contact with the open end of the tube
  • Put the tip of the tube close to the eye and gently pull the lower eyelid down as you look up
  • Draw a line of ointment on the inside of the eyelid, and blink to spread it around the eye
  • Repeat this process 3-5 times a day

Eyedrops are another effective method for treating eye infections. They are normally used as follows, but you should always read the accompanying instructions:

  • Wash your hands and sit in front of a mirror
  • Bend your head backwards and pull your lower eyelid down
  • Hold the dropper above your eye and squeeze the appropriate number of drops into the space between your eyeball and eyelid
  • Keep your eye closed for 2-3 minutes with your head tilted down to the floor
  • Open your eyes and wipe away any excess liquid with a tissue
  • Repeat this 3-5 times a day (as instructed in the leaflet)
  • Be sure not to touch anything with the dropper lid to keep it clean

Your doctor may also suggest oral medication, but this is usually reserved for severe cases.

Some of these methods can be used together (e.g. eye drops and eye creams/ointment). However, if you do use a combination of treatments, you should use them at different times of day to avoid any adverse reactions.

If you have a viral eye infection, you may not require treatment, as they tend to clear on their own within a few days. In severe cases, however, you can use antiviral eyedrops.

If your eye infection is due to an allergy, irritant or health condition, treating the cause will help relieve symptoms.

You should not wear contact lenses until your course of treatment is complete.

If you have tried over-the-counter medicines for 48 hours and have had no improvement, you should visit your doctor. You should also seek medical attention if your condition worsens after treatment.

It is important to practice good eye hygiene both during treatment and after the infection has cleared.

Avoid touching your eyes unnecessarily, wash your hands if you think you've been in contact with someone who has an infection and before you use your contact lenses. Do not share items (towels, pillows etc.) with those who have eye infections.

Sleeping without your contact lenses in even breathable ones will also help reduce your risk of infection.

How to buy Eye Infections (Conjunctivitis) medications online

Buying eye infection medication online can be highly convenient, considering the nature of the condition. Once you've had your consultation approve, you can place your order with free next-day delivery across the UK. This is also saved for future use, if you should need it again.

If your eye infection persists or is causing dramatic symptoms, please visit your doctor for further diagnosis.

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