Eye infections can be caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses. They can affect just one eye or both and can occur in different parts of the eye.
Some common eye infections include:
- Conjunctivitis – Also known as pink eye. Conjunctivitis is often due to an infection. Children frequently get it, and it is very contagious. Read more about conjunctivitis.
- Stye or chalazion – A bump on the eyelid that happens when bacteria from your skin get into the hair follicle of an eyelash.
- Keratitis – An eye infection that can be caused by improper contact lens care. Keratitis can have bacterial, fungal or herpes origins.
- Uveitis – Can be originated by virus, fungus or parasites and can be associated with infections in the body.
In general, symptoms of eye infections may include redness, itching, swelling, discharge, pain or problems with vision. Treatment depends on the cause of the infection and may include compresses, eye drops, creams or antibiotics. Read more about each kind of eye infection below.
Styes and Chalazion
Bacterial infection is usually the cause of a painful stye eye infection. A stye can develop at the base of an eyelash if the eyelash follicle gets infected. A chalazion, which is similar to a stye but often larger and less painful, forms when an oil-producing gland in the eyelid becomes clogged.
Initially, symptoms of a stye generally include eyelid tenderness and redness in the affected area, with irritation and scratchiness in the eye.
Further symptoms of a stye include:
- A red bump usually with a small pus spot in the center, at the base of the eyelashes or on the edge of the eyelid
- A feeling of having something in your eye
- Crusting along the eyelid edge
- Sensitivity to light
Treatment of Styes and Chalazion
It is important to not squeeze or try to pop a chalazion or stye, as this action might spread infection. Proper treatment may include:
Using a clean washcloth soaked in hot water, apply the cloth gently to the lid for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat 3 or 5 times a day until the chalazion or stye is gone. Keep the cloth warm during the entire process. The clogged gland will be able to open and drain a white or yellow discharge. When the gland opens, encourage drainage with gentle massage around the stye or chalazion.
If the warm compress is ineffective or the stye or chalazion returns, an antibiotic ointment may need to be prescribed.
Swelling of a chalazion may indicate that a steroid (cortisone) injection is needed to reduce its size.
If a large chalazion or stye does not heal or if it affects your vision, your eye doctor may need to drain it in surgery. The procedure is usually performed under local anesthesia in the office.
Caution: Don’t wear eye makeup or contact lenses until after the stye or chalazion has healed.
While contact lenses are safely used by millions of people every day, they do carry a risk of eye infection. The most common infection related to contact lens use is keratitis, an infection of the cornea (the clear, round dome covering the eye’s iris and pupil).
Keratitis is the most serious complication of contact lens wear. In severe cases, it can lead to corneal scarring that impairs vision, and may lead to the need for a cornea transplant.
Herpes keratitis is a viral infection of the eye caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Type I HSV is the most frequent cause of eye infections. Infection can be caused by touching an active cold sore or fever blister and then your eye.
Symptoms of herpes keratitis include pain, redness, tearing, discharge, blurred vision and light sensitivity.
Mild herpes infections are typically treated with topical and sometimes oral antiviral medication. In more severe cases, it is necessary to scrape the affected area of the cornea to remove the diseased cells. In case of severe scarring and vision loss, a corneal transplant may be required.
Bacterial keratitis is an infection of the cornea that causes pain, reduced vision, light sensitivity and tearing or discharge from your eye. Bacterial keratitis usually develops very quickly, and if left untreated, can cause blindness. It often results from infection from contact lens use or from an injury to the eye. The bacteria usually responsible for this type of keratitis infection are Staphylococcus Aureus and, for contact lens wearers, Pseudomonas Aeruginosa.
Fungal keratitis is like bacterial keratitis in symptoms and causes (contact use and eye injury) but caused by a fungus, most often Fusarium. Like bacterial keratitis, fungal keratitis usually develops very quickly and if left untreated can cause blindness.
Fungal keratitis can occur after a corneal injury involving plant material, for example, getting hit in the eye with a palm branch. This eye infection can also occur when people who are immunosuppressed are exposed to the fungus. There is also a risk of developing fungal keratitis with contact lens use.
To accurately diagnose fungal keratitis, your eye doctor may gently scrape the eye to take a small sample of material and test it for infection, then diagnose whether your keratitis is fungal keratitis or bacterial keratitis.
Treatment of fungal keratitis usually includes antifungal eye drops and oral medications. Surgery may be required, including corneal transplantation if other treatments are ineffective. In some cases, even corneal surgery will not restore vision, and permanent vision impairment or blindness may occur.
For contact lens users, it is very important to safely handle, store and clean your lenses to reduce your risk of developing keratitis.
Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye between the retina and the white of the eye (sclera).
The specific cause of uveitis often remains unknown. In some cases, however, it can be associated with other disease or infection in the body.
Uveitis may be associated with:
- A virus, such as shingles, mumps or herpes simplex
- A fungus, such as histoplasmosis
- A parasite, such as toxoplasmosis
- A result of injury to the eye
- Disease in other parts of the body, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or collagen vascular disease such as lupus
- Smoking has been shown to increase the likelihood of uveitis
Uveitis can develop quite suddenly with the symptoms of eye redness and pain, or with painless blurring of vision. In addition, other symptoms may include light sensitivity, blurred vision, decreased vision and floaters. There may also be a whitish area inside the lower part of the iris.
Uveitis is a serious eye condition that may scar the eye. It needs to be treated as soon as possible. Eye drops, especially corticosteroids and pupil dilators, can reduce inflammation and pain. For more severe inflammation, oral medication or injections may be necessary.
If left untreated, uveitis may lead to:
- Glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye)
- Cataract (clouding of the eye’s natural lens)
- Neovascularization (growth of new, abnormal blood vessels)
- Damage to the retina, including retinal detachment
If you have a red eye that does not clear up quickly, contact us. These complications may also need treatment with eye drops, conventional surgery or laser surgery.
Eye Makeup Can Increase Chances of Eye Infection
Follow these tips to keep your eyes healthy:
- Throw away eye makeup after three months. Infection-causing bacteria grow easily in creamy or liquid eye makeup.
- If you develop an eye infection, immediately toss out all your eye makeup.
- Never share eye makeup, including sampling makeup in stores that have been contaminated by multiple users.
- If you tend to be allergic, introduce only one new eye makeup or care product at a time. If there is no reaction, add another new product, and so on.
- If you notice an allergic reaction, find out what the ingredients are and let your doctor know.
- Before applying makeup, be sure your face and eyelids are very clean.
- Always apply makeup outside the lash line, away from the eye, to avoid blocking the oil glands of the upper or lower eyelid.
- Never apply makeup while in a moving vehicle.
- Do not separate your mascara-clumped lashes with sharp items.
- If you tend to have dry eyes, avoid metallic/glitter, powder or other makeup that flakes.
- Glitter eye makeup is a common cause of corneal irritation or infection, especially in contact lens users.
- Remove all eye makeup at night before sleeping, especially mascara that can stick to the lashes.
- Brush a clean cotton swab along the base of the eyelashes to remove all makeup remnants.
- If you use eye makeup remover, avoid getting it in your eyes and thoroughly rinse remover off your eyelids.
If you have eye surgery, do not wear makeup around the eye until your ophthalmologist tells you it is safe to do so, and then use only fresh, new makeup.
The final word in eye infections is that if you experience pain, redness, tearing, discharge, blurred vision and light sensitivity or swelling around the eye, see us so that it can be diagnosed and treated immediately. Eye infections such as conjunctivitis and stye eye infections, as well as others, can and will cause damage to the eye and may result in blindness when left untreated.
My visit was unscheduled and a slight emergency. I was dealt with promptly and professionally. Dr. McDougal was very friendly, thorough, and above all, very patient at explaining what he was doing, what my options could be and how he would proceed. He’s a great teacher and his friendly “bedside” manner I very much appreciated! — Jackie L.
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