Information on ocular health and common viral, bacterial or fungal eye infections.
Select a Topic
- What is an Eye Infection?
- Diagnosing an Eye Infection
- What Causes an Eye Infection?
- Eye Infections in Infants, Toddlers, & Children
- Help for an Eye Infection
- More Information on Eye Infections
What is an Eye Infection?
An eye infection is usually an extremely bothersome condition that causes much discomfort. Caused by viruses and bacteria entering the eye, eye infections affect people of all ages (especially those with weak immune systems and can be highly contagious.
There are many different types, the most common being pink eye blepharitis, and styes (infection of the tiny oil glands on the edge of the eyelids.)
Diagnosing an Eye Infection
The symptoms of an eye infection will depend on the type of infection and the area of the eye that is infected.
What are the Symptoms of an Eye Infection?
Some common symptoms include:
- Eye pain
- Persistent itching
- Eye discomfort
- Eye discharge that may become crusty at night
- Teary eyes
- Blurred vision
- Swelling and redness
- Eye inflammation
- Flaking skin surrounding the eyes or on the eye lids
What Causes an Eye Infection?
While the eyes are constantly exposed to a variety of germs, bacteria, and viruses, sometimes the body’s defenses fail and an eye infection can result. Eye infections are most commonly spread by hand-to-eye contact, infections traveling from the sinuses, or through poor eye hygiene (especially contact-lens hygiene).
Other causes include complications from eye surgery, eye trauma, immune deficiency, or other eye problems or illness that result in bacteria or viral growth. Systemic overgrowth of the fungus candida albicans known as Candidiasis can also cause recurrent eye infections and eye pain.
Eye Infections in Infants, Toddlers, & Children
Eye infections are commonly caused by a virus. Viral eye infections are mildly contagious but otherwise harmless. One of the best ways to take care of a viral eye infection in infants, toddlers and children is to rinse the eyes often with warm water, using a clean cotton ball each time. Keeping the eye area clean will help prevent bacterial infections from forming.
Breast milk can also be used – simply soak a cotton ball in breast milk and gently apply to the affected area. In most cases, viral eye infections last about four to seven days.
If a yellow discharge develops around the eye area or the eyelids become matted or stuck together after sleeping, the eye infection is most likely bacterial rather than viral. If eyelids become very red or swollen, consult your pediatrician immediately.
Help for an Eye Infection
Conventional Medical Treatment
While some eye infections are relatively harmless, others can be more serious and require medical attention. If left untreated, serious eye infections can cause irreversible damage to delicate eye tissue and vision may be permanently impaired. General practitioners will usually prescribe a topical solution or ointment for treatment of an eye infection or antibiotic eye drops.
It is important to make sure you know all the side effects of any medication you may be considering, as sometimes the medical treatment can cause further complications such as dry eyes.
During healing time, it is important not to touch or rub the eyes, so try using a cool or warm compress to relieve discomfort and any itchiness. Make a warm or cold compress by using a clean cloth or cotton swab, use only boiled or purified water to wet the cloth, and place this on the closed eye. A warm compress typically helps to reduce discomfort, while a cold compress works well to reduce itchiness and eye inflammation.
More Information on Eye Infections
Tips on How to Avoid Eye Infections
- Always wash your hands before and after touching your eyes or face.
- Don’t share eye makeup with other people.
- Replace old eye makeup. Most eye makeup has an expiration date of 6 months, and should be replaced thereafter to avoid eye irritation.
- If you do get an infection, then don’t use eye makeup until it has fully healed. In addition, you should throw away eye makeup used just before the infection so as to make sure you do not re-infect yourself.
- Practice good eye hygiene when using contact lenses. Do not share contact lens equipment, containers, or solutions and do not wear contact lenses until the infection has healed. After this, make sure you thoroughly clean your contacts before wearing them again, and replace your contact lens case.
- Don’t share eye drops.
- Do not share towels, linens, pillows, or handkerchiefs and wash your own linen and towels regularly.
- Wear eye protection such as sunglasses when in the sun, wind, or cold to prevent eye irritation.
- Always wear safety goggles when working with chemicals or certain work equipment.