Common Eye Infections and When to go to the Doctor

Eye infections can be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. Because symptoms of eye infections are often similar, it can be difficult to distinguish the cause. Here are a few of the most common eye infections:

Pink Eye

Pink eye is the common name for conjunctivitis. It can be bacterial or viral, but the warning signs are similar: eye redness, swelling, burning and discharge. Viral conjunctivitis usually causes a watery discharge with crusting in the mornings, while bacterial conjunctivitis typically results in a constant, thick, yellow or green discharge. Pink eye is highly contagious and spreads quickly, especially in schools and day care centers. An ophthalmologist will usually prescribe antibiotic eye drops for bacterial pink eye.

Bacterial Keratitis

Bacterial keratitis is an infection of the cornea, the clear dome in the front of the eye. It is caused by pseudomonas bacteria found in soil and water or staphylococcus bacteria carried on human skin. Contact lens wearers can develop bacterial keratitis, but people who do not wear contacts can develop it as well. Although bacterial keratitis is not contagious, it can develop quickly and can cause vision loss if left untreated.


A stye develops when an oil gland in the eyelid or eyelash becomes infected with bacteria, usually bacteria that is normally found on the skin. It can look like a red bump under the eyelid or at the base of the eyelashes, and it can feel painful and tender. Most styes last about a week and will eventually heal without treatment.

When to Visit an Eye Doctor

It is not necessary to visit your eye doctor at the first sign of eye irritation, but if symptoms persist or worsen over 24 hours, or if you are a contact lens wearer and have a red eye for more than one day, you should make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. Here are a few symptoms that could indicate a serious eye infection:

  • Swelling in the area around the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye pain
  • Discharge that forms a crust along the lash line
  • Blurry vision
  • Extreme light sensitivity
  • Sensation of a foreign object in the eye

Most eye infections can be prevented with good hygiene. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes. Clean all towels, washcloths and pillowcases in hot water, and never share cosmetics.

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