Itchy, red eyes that are watery, swollen, and painful may have fallen victim to infection of some sort. The first step in getting relief is to identify the source of the infection. Different causes call for different treatment methods.
The two most common sources of eye infection are bacterial or viral infection. Less common are infections caused by other microbial agents but less common doesn’t mean less alarming. In other cases, allergic reactions lead to eye infections.
While an infection is in full swing, vision may be temporarily blurred or otherwise impaired. Once the infection is cleared up, vision almost always returns to normal. In rare circumstances, however, an eye infection can lead to blindness so no eye infection should go untreated. Sometimes immediate action can save one’s vision.
Bacterial infections are frequently associated with use of contact lenses. When these visual aids aren’t disinfected properly, bacterial build-up on the lens itself can contaminate the eye. In many cases, an eye care professional will prescribe antibiotic drops and a few days without contact lenses. This is also a good time to reinforce appropriate disinfection procedures, too.
Conjunctivitis, often called pink eye, is a rather common eye infection that most people experience from time to time. The most telltale symptom of this form of infection is a reddened or swollen conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that lines the eyelid and outer surface of the eye, from which the disease gets its name.
Again, conjunctivitis can be caused by bacterial or viral sources so it’s important to determine the source of infection and treat the condition accordingly. Bacterial conjunctivitis will usually respond to antibiotic drops but viral infection is more likely caused by the common cold, sore throat, or respiratory infection. Treating the source of the viral infection will almost always improve the related conjunctivitis.
The eye can become inflamed when allergens come in contact with sensitive eyes, leading to allergic conjunctivitis. Eliminating exposure to the harmful substance will usually cause the eye infection to heal. Some of the more common allergens include cosmetics, drugs, fumes, dust mites, and airborne chemicals.
When viral or bacterial, pink eye can be quite contagious. It is important to minimize contact with others while under treatment for a viral or bacterial eye infection. Even indirect contact can spread the infection.
For example, rubbing one’s infected eye with the fingers, then using the telephone is an indirect means of spreading the eye infection. The next person who picks up the phone also picks up the bacteria or virus and can spread it to their own eyes if they rub them without washing their hands first.
When treating any eye infection, cleanliness is vital. Wash hands frequently, especially after touching the infected eye for any reason. Never share eye drops, cosmetics, or any other products that come in direct contact with the eye, whether infection is present or not.
Although the risk is rather small, the risk of causing permanent damage is present with all eye infections. Prevention is preferred but when an infection is suspected, see an eye care professional immediately and follow his or her eye care instructions meticulously.