Signs and Symptoms of an Eye Infection
The eyes are a sensitive part of the body and infections can quickly flare up when harmful bacteria or viruses invade the eye and surrounding area. This can include the surface of the eye (the cornea) and the thin membrane that lines the outer eye and inner eyelids (the conjunctiva). Contact lens wearers, in particular, are at risk of developing eye infections if proper care isn’t taken. These are the signs to look out for and how to prevent an eye infection from occurring.
Symptoms of Eye Infections
Infections can crop up in different parts of the eye and this can lead to a number of symptoms, including:
- Pain or swelling in the eye
- Yellow mucus or discharge
- Blurred vision
- Dry eyes
- Watery eyes
- Sensitivity to bright lights
If you’ve developed any of the above symptoms, it’s important to consult your GP or optician as soon as possible so that the condition can be properly diagnosed. Depending on what infection you have, you may need medication to treat the cause – a swab or sample from your eye may be required to accurately diagnose the infection. If the infection is caused by a virus, it can be difficult to treat so medication is often prescribed to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms while the virus is left to resolve itself. But if the infection is more serious then antiviral eye drops might be prescribed along with steroids to reduce the inflammation.
It’s not advisable to self-medicate or try to treat the problem yourself with over the counter medication as it may be ineffective in properly curing the infection, leading to long-term issues with your eyes. Make sure you follow the advice of your GP carefully and stick to the dosage instructions – if your infection begins to get better, contact your GP or optician again to see if you should continue your course of medication.
Common Eye Infections
There are various types of eye infections to be cautious of, but these are some of the most common and who is most susceptible.
Conjunctivitis – Conjunctivitis is an incredibly contagious eye infection that is also referred to as ‘red eye’ or ‘pink eye’. It’s most common in schools, nurseries or areas where large numbers of children play, and symptoms of this infection include inflammation of the tissue that covers the front of the eye. If you have redness, itching or even yellow discharge in and around your eye, you may have developed conjunctivitis.
Viral Keratitis – This infection is characterized by inflammation of the corner and is similar to conjunctivitis in terms of the symptoms experienced. There are several viral infections that can cause this to develop so it’s important to see your GP in order to properly diagnose it and get the right treatment.
Fungal Keratitis – Fungal eye infections are usually caused by the Fusarium fungi which is found in organic materials such as tree branches or plants. If you accidentally get poked in the eye by a tree branch, for example, you can be at risk of this fungus being transferred onto your eye which can lead to infection. Symptoms of this include redness, discharge, blurred vision and pain.
Endophthalmitis – While the majority of eye infections only impact the delicate exterior tissues, some more serious eye infections can affect the interior of the eye, leading to much more serious risks to your vision. Injuries to the eye area and even complications from cataract treatment in very rare care can cause endophthalmitis to develop which required urgent treatment. If you experience pain, redness, swelling and a loss of vision, these may be signs of this disease.
Trachoma – Trachoma is less common in developed countries, but it is a serious eye infection that can lead to blindness, so travelers to undeveloped areas of the world where sanitation is poor should be cautious. This infection is caused by flies and can lead to scarring on the inner eyelids which cause the eyelids to turn in on themselves. This causes contact between the eyelashes and the corneal tissue which can lead to irreparable damage and blindness.
Complications from eye infections can lead to more serious problems than just swelling and irritation. When an eye infection is neglected, it can sometimes penetrate the eye, causing blockages to the tear ducts, ulcers in the cornea, orbital cellulitis and even blindness in very severe cases. These types of complications are rare, but any suspected infection should be treated as soon as possible to prevent it from getting worse and causing serious problems to your eye health.
How to Prevent an Eye Infection
Eye infections are unpleasant and can seriously impact your day to day life, from working at a computer to driving and taking care of household duties, so preventative measures are necessary to avoid them where possible. Some infections are more contagious than others, such as conjunctivitis which can spread very quickly, so the best course of action is to avoid close contact with other people if you have an eye infection. Keep your hands clean by using antibacterial gels to avoid spreading bacteria and germs and make sure you wash towels, bed linens and pillowcases regularly, particularly if someone in the home has an infection.
Contact lens wearers should avoid wearing their lenses while they have any symptoms of an eye infection. It’s vital to also maintain hygienic measures when putting lenses in or removing them – make sure you wash your hands before touching your eyes or the lenses and only change the lenses in a clean environment to ensure their lenses are as clean as possible. This will prevent an infection from developing in the first place. It’s also important to remember to remove your lenses before you go to sleep as well, as this can cause eye infections to develop. If you use monthly lenses / two week disposables as opposed to disposable lenses, silicone hydrogel lenses, keep them in a clean storage container and remember to replace the solution regularly to limit the production of bacteria.