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Signs, Symptoms and Treatments of Common Eye Infections Explained

Common Eye Infections

If you’re fortunate enough to have good vision, chances are you won’t really think about it much unless a problem, like an eye infection, comes along. Most of us will experience an eye infection at some stage of our lives. However, while they can be worrying to deal with, eye infections are often easily treated. So we’ve put together a guide to some of the most common eye infections, including how to identify and manage them if you think you might have one.


Conjunctivitis

Also called red eye or pink eye, conjunctivitis is common in all ages. The main cause of conjunctivitis is usually a viral or bacterial infection (infective conjunctivitis), although it can also be caused by allergies (allergic conjunctivitis) or irritants such as chemicals or fumes (irritant conjunctivitis). It affects the eye by causing inflammation in the conjunctiva – the membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid. Infective conjunctivitis can be caused by coughs, colds, sore throats, ear infections, herpes infections and even sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia – although you can get it without having a virus or bacterial infection.


What are the symptoms?

Infective conjunctivitis often starts by making your eye (or eyes) bloodshot and watery. You may have a burning sensation in your eye, or it may feel as if there is grit in it. Particularly in the morning, your eyelids may feel stuck together with a sticky yellow discharge, which is more likely if you have bacterial conjunctivitis than viral conjunctivitis.


How to treat it

There’s no antiviral medication for viral conjunctivitis, but drops called artificial tears can help soothe irritation while over-the-counter painkillers can help if your eye feels painful. The infection can last for up to three weeks. If you have bacterial conjunctivitis, your GP may prescribe antibiotic drops. To ease the symptoms of conjunctivitis yourself, try cleaning your eyelids and lashes regularly and using cold compresses to gently to clean away any crusting or discharge. Meanwhile, avoid spreading the infection to others by washing your hands regularly and regularly changing your pillows.


Blepharitis

Despite being most common in people over 50, blepharitis can affect anyone of any age. Scientifically speaking, it isn’t an infection as such, but might appear as one because its symptoms involve the inflammation of the eyelids. This is caused by a reaction to staphylococcus, bacteria that usually live on the skin without causing any problems. Blepharitis is also more common in people with skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea or acne, and can be linked with dry eye syndrome. It is usually a chronic condition, which means once it develops it can keep recurring. It isn’t contagious, however.


What are the symptoms?

Sore and itchy eyelids that can look swollen, crusty or greasy are the main symptoms, with some people also experiencing a gritty, stinging or burning sensation in their eyes. Like conjunctivitis, blepharitis can also make your eyelids stick together when you wake up in the morning, and you may find your eyes are more sensitive to light.


How to treat it

There’s no cure for blepharitis, but good eyelid hygiene can help control the symptoms. Drops of artificial tears may also help manage any eye discomfort or dryness. If you have a more severe case of blepharitis, your GP may prescribe a course of antibiotics. Additionally, keep your eyelids clean, using a cotton wool pad to remove any excess oil, crusts, dust, bacteria or grime at least once a day. Also, try massaging your eyelids gently and applying a warm compress. Since blepheritis is linked to dry eye syndrome, understanding how to combat dehydration could be a great way of improving your eye health.


Herpes eye infections

As well as causing cold sores, the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) can affect your eyes. After the initial infection, the virus lives in nerves in your face. But if reactivated the virus can cause further cold sores or sometimes travel along the nerves to an eye (usually just one eye is affected). It can be triggered by high temperature (38C or higher), eye injury, stress, a weakened immune system, strong sunlight, or periods. Herpes eye infections may be common but they can also be serious if they aren’t treated quickly, with possible complications including a vision-damaging condition called glaucoma, further eye infections and sometimes vision loss.


What are the symptoms?

If you have a herpes simplex eye infection, your eye may look red and there may be some swelling and watering. Your eye may become sensitive to bright light too, and you may experience eye pain. Some people also find their vision becomes blurred. Most significantly, if you’re affected, it’s likely the infection could return from time to time.


How to treat it

If you think you have a herpes simplex eye infection, it’s important to see your GP, as treating the virus can help reduce the risk of complications. You may be prescribed antiviral eye drops or ointment, and steroid eye drops to ease inflammation. Those who have more severe symptoms may also need to take antiviral tablets. If you find you get recurring infections, it may be useful to wear sunglasses to protect from strong sunlight. Taking steps to reduce any stress in your life may also be useful if you tend to get an infection whenever you’re under a lot of pressure.


Uveitis

Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea or uveal tract – the middle coloured layer of the eye. While it is most common in people aged 20 - 59, it can affect anyone. It is mainly brought on by other infections wuch as herpes simplex virus. While most cases can be treated effectively with no risk of complications, some may lead to the development of glaucoma or damage of the retina (the area at the back of the eye that converts light into neural signals).


What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include persistent eye pain, redness, sensitivity to light and blurred or cloudy vision can develop suddenly or gradually over a few days. Other signs of uveitis include floaters (small specs that move across your field of vision) and loss of peripheral vision. If you think you may have uveitis, it’s important to get it diagnosed as soon as possible, as earlier treatments are more likely to be successful.


How to treat it

If you’re diagnosed with uveitis you GP will prescribe you steroid treatments to reduce the inflammation. These can include steroid eye drops, injections or capsules. In some cases, surgery may be necessary. Additionally, you can help ease the symptoms of uveitis by taking over-the-counter painkillers, applying a warm compress and wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from strong sunlight.

For more information on a whole range of other common eye conditions, feel free to visit our Vision Health Hub.



References:

  1. Royal National Institute of Blind People. Sight Loss Statistics. Available online: https://help.rnib.org.uk/help/newly-diagnosed-registration/registering-sight-loss/statistics

  2. Royal National Institute of Blind People. Smoking and Sight Loss. Available online: https://www.rnib.org.uk/eye-health/looking-after-your-eyes/smoking-and-sight-loss





 

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Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best The Pharmacy is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.

 
 
 
Our Author - Christine Morgan

Christine

Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.

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