Eye infections occur when harmful microorganisms, bacteria, fungi and viruses invade any part of the eyeball or surrounding area. This includes the clear front surface of the eye (cornea) and the thin, moist membrane lining the outer eye and inner eyelids (conjunctiva).
EYE INFECTION SYMPTOMS
Anytime you suspect an eye infection, you should always visit your eye doctor for an eye exam. Trying to self-diagnose your condition can delay effective treatment and potentially harm your sight.
Picture:1 Endophthalmitis is a severe form of eye infection and inflammation.
If you wear contact lenses, you should wear only your eyeglasses until you have visited your eye doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
There are many different types of eye infections, and your eye doctor needs to determine the particular type of eye infection you have in order to prescribe the proper treatment.
Your doctor may take a sample from the affected area of your eye for a culture to assess the exact type of infection you have, if any. This may help determine the most effective treatment, such as an antibiotic that selectively targets the type of bacteria causing the infection.
EYE INFECTION COMPLICATIONS
An infection also can affect interior portions of the upper and lower eyelids to create a stye or chalazion.
When infection invades the eye's tear glands, inflammatory conditions such as dacryostenosis and uveitis can result. Infection also can lead to inflammation and blockage of the eye's tear drainage system and cause dacryocystitis.
Infection can be an underlying cause of a corneal ulcer, which resembles an abscess on the eye. If left untreated, a corneal ulcer can lead to severe vision loss.
More serious eye infections can penetrate the deeper, interior portions of the eye to create sight-threatening conditions such as endophthalmitis.
With orbital cellulitis, infection found in and around the soft tissue of the eyelids represents an emergency because the condition can spread if left untreated.
EYE INFECTION TREATMENTS
Fortunately, most common bacterial eye infections clear up, particularly with prompt treatment such as prescription antibiotic eye drops or ointments and compresses.
Many common viral eye infections resolve on their own. In cases of severe viral eye infections, an antiviral eye drop may be prescribed. Some viral eye infections require careful administration of steroid eye drops to reduce related inflammation.
Depending on the underlying cause of your eye infection, your doctor also may prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medications that are taken orally. If your symptoms worsen or change, contact your eye doctor immediately.
HOW TO PREVENT EYE INFECTIONS
If you are near a person with a red eye, avoid contact around your own eye until you wash your hands first. You can minimize the likelihood of catching common bacterial or viral eye infections by using anti-infective sprays and cleansers liberally in public areas such as day care centers and classrooms.
Picture:3 Prevent eye infections by washing your hands before touching your eyes or eyelids and before handling contact lenses.
At home, if any family members have a red eye or a confirmed eye infection, keep their bedding and towels clean, and don't let them share these items with anyone else. Have them wash their hands often.
And in general, teach children to avoid touching their eyes without washing their hands first.
If you are a contact lens wearer, you should follow safety tips for good hygiene, such as hand washing before you handle your contacts.
Also, be aware that sleeping while wearing contact lenses, even if you wear the new "breathable" silicone hydrogel contact lenses that are FDA-approved for overnight wear, significantly increases your risk of eye infection.