Eye Infections: Seeing the Signs

Eye infections are a pain—literally. Most of us are familiar with pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, which can spread rapidly through elementary schools if not contained. However, conjunctivitis is only one of a host of eye infections.

Caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, these infections can occur in one or both eyes and, rarely, can become serious if not treated. Fortunately, we’ve got the information you need to identify and treat them.

Some of the most common eye infections include:

  • Conjunctivitis/pink eye. This infection affects your eyelid and the membrane covering the white of your eye. As the membrane swells, your blood vessels dilate and make your eye appear red, hence the common name “pink eye.” In addition to the redness, your eye may be puffy and sore, and it might itch or burn.
  • Stye (sty). This infection occurs when a gland on the edge of your eyelid becomes infected and swells. Most of the time, a stye is caused by the bacteria staphylococcus (staph). Wearing contact lenses or using old or contaminated makeup may put you at higher risk for developing a stye or another eye infection.
  • Blepharitis. Often identifiable by redness and swelling, blepharitis is an infection of the eyelids that can also affect the white of your eye as well as the membrane on the inside of your eyelid. Germs from contact lenses or makeup, as well as dandruff or oily skin, can increase the risk of this infection. Blepharitis can sometimes turn into a chronic condition.
  • Keratitis. This condition occurs when the cornea becomes inflamed. Keratitis is usually caused by an infection, but an injury to the cornea can also cause keratitis. Infectious keratitis can be caused by bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites and should not be left untreated, as serious cases of keratitis can lead to loss of vision.

Symptoms of Eye Infection

The most common symptoms of eye infections include:

  • A feeling of something in the eye
  • Eye discharge that is yellow, white, green or bloody
  • Eye pain
  • Itching
  • Light sensitivity
  • Redness in the eye or eyelid
  • Watery eyes

If you are experiencing symptoms of an eye infection, keep in mind that infections such as conjunctivitis can be highly contagious. Fortunately, you can prevent spreading it by:

  • Avoiding touching your eye
  • Not sharing personal belongings that touch your eye, including glasses, eye makeup and eyedrops
  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water

How Are Eye Infections Treated?

Many eye infections, such as styes, can go away on their own or with at-home treatment such as warm compresses. It is important to see a medical professional, however, for a proper diagnosis. Some infections require prescription eye drops or ointments for treatment and can get worse if left alone. Blepharitis, for example, can lead to a chronic cyst that in rare cases could require surgery to remove if left untreated.

Urgent care services are often helpful in getting eye infections treated in a timely manner. If you wear contact lenses and develop symptoms of an eye infection, remove your contacts and switch to glasses until your infection resolves.

If you suspect you have an eye infection, call your primary care doctor or visit River’s Edge Hospital’s Urgent Care Department. Learn more about our urgent care services.

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