What To Know About Eye Infections
What Causes Eye Infections?
Typically, the eye prevents infection from a variety of microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites, through natural defense mechanisms. In certain situations, such as trauma, contact lens misuse, or after eye surgery, these microorganisms can gain access to the eye when its natural defense mechanisms have been compromised or weakened. This can cause a variety of infections, ranging from conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, or vision-threatening endophthalmitis.
Symptoms to Look For
Symptoms will vary depending on the type of eye infection. But, in general, you should be aware of “RSVP” symptoms: redness, sensitivity to light, vision loss, and/or extreme pain. Many of these symptoms can cause watery eyes or lead to discharge. Contact us if you experience these symptoms or have mild symptoms that do not go away on their own.
Do Infections Just Go Away?
Do not just assume your eye infection will go away over time, especially if you routinely use contact lenses. Infections can rapidly proliferate in the eye and cause significant vision loss in a short period of time. In fact, nearly one million eye infections require a trip to the doctor or hospital each year, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
“Because the cornea (the clear window of the eye) lacks blood vessels, microorganisms that infect the cornea are difficult to eradicate because the eye cannot bring in natural defense mechanisms, such as white blood cells, due to the lack of blood supply,” says Kamran M. Riaz, MD, a specialist in cornea and external diseases at Dean McGee Eye Institute. “Contact lens-related ulcers, for example, can cause significant vision damage in a relatively short period of time.”
Treatment for Eye Infections
You may not associate eye infections with dangerous side effects, but several types may still require a trip to the doctor’s office. To be safe, consult your doctor when symptoms start so they can provide which next steps to take. Schedule an appointment today with one of our cornea and external disease experts.
Treatment options will depend on your type of infection. Antibiotic eye drop solutions or antibiotic pills prescribed by your ophthalmologist can alleviate symptoms caused by a bacterial infection, while anti-inflammatory drops can help reduce redness, itching, or swelling. It is important to see an eye care specialist to ensure that the correct drops are prescribed as the wrong drops can worsen the infection.
Viral infections are unique in that there is not a specific treatment to eliminate the virus. In some cases, the virus will go away on its own with supportive therapy, including cold compresses, refrigerated artificial tears (over the counter), and avoiding touching the other eye. Other times, you may need antiviral treatments or your ophthalmologist may treat specific symptoms, similar to how you would treat the flu. This may include specially prescribed eyedrops based on your doctor’s assessment.
Types of Eye Infections
Bacteria and viruses lead to the majority of eye infections. Certain types of infections, such as conjunctivitis, are caused by both. Depending on the type, eye infections can affect the eyelids, eyelashes, cornea, or the inside of the eye. Although rare, you can develop eye infections from fungi or parasites.
Most eye infections are viral, contagious, and can spread easily, which is why they are so common. Viral conjunctivitis is the most common type of viral eye infection you can get, especially after a recent cold or upper respiratory infection. This type of infection usually happens gradually over a period of several days with slowly worsening symptoms. Immunocompromised patients, such as those with AIDS, are also at risk for cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis, or infectious inflammation of the retina. This type of infection usually happens very quickly, and a prompt examination by an eye doctor is extremely important.
Many types of bacteria can cause infections, such as conjunctivitis or staph infections. In general, common symptoms of bacterial eye infections include redness, inflammation, irritation, or discharge. Bacterial infections can also lead to keratitis, which causes inflammation in the cornea. Improper use or care of contact lenses, including overnight wear (i.e., sleeping with contact lenses in the eyes),is the biggest culprit of keratitis.
Staphylococcus aureus, known more commonly as staph, is a bacteria found on your skin that can lead to an infection. More specifically, staph is a common cause of blepharitis. This inflammation of the eyelid can create irritation and lead to scales that form around your eyelashes. Staph can also cause a stye to form around your eyelid. These red bumps (known as chalazion, hordeolum, or “stye”) can become tender and irritated. Initial treatment involves warm compresses, lid massages, and ointments to help improve the eyelid infection. In later stages, additional treatments, including an in-office procedure, may be required.
Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)
The conjunctiva is the clear tissue that covers the white part of your eye. When irritated or infected, this condition can produce redness in your eye, hence the name. You can develop pink eye from bacterial infections or allergies, although viral infections are the most common cause. Antibiotic eye drops can help alleviate symptoms for bacterial conjunctivitis, and you will have to rely on your own immune system to get rid of viral conjunctivitis since you cannot treat viral infections.