Ocular infections occur when any part of the eye is contaminated by pathogenic bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Infections can take root in any component of the eye’s anatomy, including the cornea, the conjunctiva, the eyelid, or the iris. Common symptoms of eye infections include pain, redness, swelling, discharge, itchiness, and blurry vision. Depending on the exact type of pathogen that has infected your eye, and which area of the anatomy is affected, these symptoms can be anywhere from moderate to severe in intensity. At any level of severity, it is very likely that they will affect your ability to go about your daily routine. If you’re suffering from one or more of these symptoms and think you might have an eye infection, you should visit your eye doctor immediately for a comprehensive eye examination.
While many infections are minor and will clear up on their own, some are very serious and require powerful medications to cure. Unfortunately, there are a huge number of microorganisms that have the ability to infect the eye, but the good news is that many of them can be cured or prevented using the same approach.
Common Eye Infections
As stated above, there are a number of infections that have the ability to plague the eye. A wide variety of microorganisms can attack almost every corner of the eye, making for countless combinations of infections. However, we want to outline some of the most common eye infections below.
- Conjunctivitis, which is commonly known as “pink eye,” is one of the most common ocular infections. This highly contagious condition is the result of a bacterial or viral infection in the conjunctiva, a small, transparent membrane that sits between the eyelid and the sclera. It can also be the result of an allergic reaction or irritation from a foreign object or substance.
- Styes are localized bacterial infections in the eyelid that present as large, tender lumps; they are sometimes described as looking like a pimple or boil. More often than not, they are the result of a bacterial infection.
- Blepharitis is another type of infection of the eyelid, specifically at the area towards the tip of the eyelid from where the eyelashes grow. It is often the result of the oil ducts that lubricate the eyelashes becoming clogged, leading to infection. While it is a chronic condition that is oftentimes difficult to treat, it, fortunately, does not cause long term damage to your eyesight.
- Cellulitis, which is also known as periorbital or preseptal cellulitis when it affects the eye, is another common infection of the eyelid. While anyone can get periorbital cellulitis, the infection is most common in young children.
- Keratitis is an infection of the cornea, the clear tissue that covers the front of your eye. It is most often the result of an infection, but can also be caused by injuries or a foreign body in the eye.
- Corneal ulcers are open sores on the cornea, the clear tissue that covers the front of your eye. They can be very painful and cause severe redness and swelling.
Prevention and Treatment
The treatment for eye infections varies widely based on the pathogen and anatomy involved. Some infections will clear up on their own with time, while others will require eye drops, ointment, or oral medications to fully resolve. In any case, if you think you have an eye infection, you should see an eye care professional immediately so they can conduct a comprehensive eye examination. If necessary, they will swab and culture your eye to determine whether or not there is an infection present.
Additionally, prevention is very important for the management of eye infections. Practicing good hygiene like washing your hands and not rubbing your eyes is the best thing you can do to prevent the spread of eye infections. If you wear contact lenses, you should also be sure to take them out and clean them on a regular basis and only handle them with clean hands. This will help ensure you keep harmful bacteria out of your eyes.