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ICON: Diagnosis and management of allergic conjunctivitis. Annals of allergy, asthma & immunology : official publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, 124(2), 118–134.
A bacterial eye infection refers to an eye infection that is caused by the presence of bacteria. The most common bacteria known to cause conjunctivitis are Haemophilus influenza, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus. These create an inflammation of the tissue inside the eyelid and on the surface of the eye.
Bacterial eye infections can cause itchy and watering eyes, a discharge of mucus, or a sticky coating on your eyelashes.
Bacterial eye infections are very common, and affect nearly all of us at some point, though some people can be more prone to them than others. You may be more at risk if you:
It’s difficult to prevent a bacterial eye infection, but there are some things you can do to lessen your chances of picking one up. For example, maintaining good hygiene, regularly washing your pillows and towels, and keeping your contact lenses clean (wearing them as directed) can help lessen your chances of catching an infection.
It’s always good practice to avoid sharing makeup too, and avoid people who currently have conjunctivitis (if you do come into contact with someone who has it, wash your hands thoroughly), whilst also maintaining good overall health.
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The causes of bacterial eye infection may vary, but they may be triggered by:
Eye infections can be caused by different bacteria, sometimes causing different symptoms. For instance, conjunctivitis caused by the Morax-Axenfeld diplobacilli bacteria often lasts much longer than other forms of bacterial conjunctivitis and may require further treatment. However, bacterial eye infections are most commonly caused by bacteria similar to that which causes respiratory infections.
By extension, there are several types of conjunctivitis, such as allergic conjunctivitis’ which can be caused by:
Symptoms of an eye infection will differ depending on the cause of infection. However, common symptoms of bacterial eye infections include redness and swelling, caused by the inflammation of the blood vessels in the thin layer of cells that cover the eyes, and unusual discharge. There is also sometimes a gritty or scratchy feeling. Symptoms tend to be experienced in just one eye to begin with, but usually affect both eyes within several hours.
Some bacterial eye infections can have serious complications if not treated. Conjunctivitis, for example, can lead to complications, depending on whether it’s infective or allergic conjunctivitis. There’s special concern around bacterial conjunctivitis that’s caused by sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, which can threaten vision. Infective conjunctivitis, if left untreated, can lead to meningitis, or blood poisoning (septicemia), among other things. Another complication known as bacterial keratitis (bacterial infection of the cornea) can cause blindness if left untreated. If there are changes in your vision, you should get in touch with a clinician immediately.
Antibiotics versus placebo for acute bacterial conjunctivitis. Cochrane Database.
Eye infections such as infective conjunctivitis normally clear up by themselves after a couple of weeks. But if the infection has lasted longer than this, or is severe, the recommended treatment for bacterial eye infections is usually a course of antibiotics. These come in the form of eye drops, which kill the bacteria and stop them making a protein which helps them to reproduce. Some of these include Azithromycin, Fucithalmic and Chloramphenicol. Creams are also available, which are applied to the eyelid. It’s important that you use treatment carefully and in line with the advice of a clinician and the patient information leaflet provided.
Some of the less severe bacterial eye infections often resolve on their own within a few weeks, and don’t require treatment beyond simple self-care methods. These include removing contact lenses, using lubricating eye drops which do not require a prescription, and gently cleaning and removing the discharge from the lashes and eyelids.
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Chlamydial eye infections: Current perspectives. Indian journal of ophthalmology, 65(2), 97–102.
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