Types, Symptoms, Causes and Cures
The first step to treating an eye infection is to identify what type of eye infection you have. There are many types of eye infections, including bacterial, viral and fungal. Allergies can also cause eye irritation that can closely mimic an eye infection. Many types of eye infections may be treated at home with no ill effect, and with a recovery time of around five days.
Explore some causes, types and symptoms of several common eye infections here, and find out what can be done to treat this condition at home. Also, learn when to recognize signs that medical attention is required. All information presented here is done so for educational purposes, and is not a replacement for being under the care of a physician. If severe eye pain, decreased vision or high fever are present, seek professional medical attention immediately.
Common Symptoms of Eye Infections
In some types of eye infection, the first symptoms may be a discoloring of the sclera. The sclera are the parts of the eyes commonly referred to as the “whites”. Some eye conditions, like pink eye or conjunctivitis, can cause the sclera to take on a pinkish hue or even turn blood-red during a flare-up. Yellowing of the sclera is not typically a sign of an eye infection, and could indicate more serious medical problems, such as liver problems. See a doctor immediately if the “whites” of the eyes take on a yellow tinge, or begin to turn gray.
The eye or eyes may also weep bodily fluids such as mucous or pus when infected. The presence of pus coming from the eyes can be a sign of contamination of the eye by fecal matter. The ooze that comes from the eyes should not have a bad odor, but may feel sticky and tacky.
As the patient sleeps, fluids from the infected eye may drain into the lash line and form crusts. When the patient awakes and attempts to open their eyes, they may even find the eyelashes essentially glued shut by the dried fluids. The crusty pieces of dried material shouldn’t be pulled off the lashes, as this can cause the lashes to be painfully ripped out.
Removing the Gunk
If the eye or eyes have become encrusted with the weeping secretions after being closed for a long period of time, there is an easy way to safely remove the “gunk” and allow the eye to open comfortably. A clean washcloth can be immersed in hot water, wrung out and applied to the lashes. As the heat and moisture softens the material, it may be wiped from the eye more easily with a clean tissue. Do not use fingers near an infected eye unless the hands are thoroughly sanitized and washed before and after contact. Never allow anyone who hasn’t washed their hands to touch an infected eye.
Eye Infections? Get Remedies Fast!
Pain and itching are two additional common symptoms of most eye infections. These symptoms can present before or after the onset of reddening of the eyes, but all three are usually present at some point of an active eye infection. Rubbing the eye during an infection may provide temporary relief, but should be avoided as it can cause more bacteria to spread and in some cases may even scratch or damage the eye. If fluids from the eye form crusts, tiny pieces of the dried-up material could become lodged inside the eyelid and cause damage if rubbed around.
If there is more itchiness than pain, there may be an allergic reaction going on rather than an acute infection.
Causes and Cures for Common Eye Infections
In many cases, contracting the occasional eye infection is just a part of life. Children pass “pinkeye” around school, and then bring it home. Dirty hands touch an eye, and the next day, there is weeping and itchiness. However, sometimes an eye infection is a serious medical matter that must be treated by a physician. In cases where symptoms of eye infection persist without positive progress beyond three days, or if symptoms are unbearable, it is recommended the patient see a doctor immediately.
There are cases where eye irritation is caused by allergies as opposed to infection. Exposure to pollen or other irritants can bring on an allergic episode that mimics infection in many ways. The exception to this is most people suffering an eye allergy will not experience pus or weeping. In these cases, bothersome symptoms may resolve significantly with a combination of oral allergy medications and the use of saline eye drops or “artificial tears”. Many over-the-counter allergy medications and eye drops are available to help treat the condition at home.
Do You Need Medical Treatment
For minor viral or bacterial infections of the eye or eyes, professional medical treatment may not be required. In many cases, such as with bacterial/viral conjunctivitis or “pinkeye”, a dose of common sense may be treatment enough. Inexpensive, simple things such as practicing good hand-washing techniques, washing all bedding and frequently replacing used bath towels with clean ones may be enough to stop the spread of the infection.
Pinkeye and Antibiotics
Pinkeye is a bacterial form of conjunctivitis, often caused by the transfer of and contamination by fecal matter. Anyone experiencing the symptoms of an eye infection such as pinkeye should avoid touching their eye for any reason. If the eye or area around the eye is touched, the patient should immediately wash their hands. Members of the patient’s household should also practice good hand-washing techniques, and never share towels or pillows, especially during a time when an infection is going around.
Though they should speed up the healing process, antibiotics may or may not be deemed necessary for a simple eye infection. A few days of rest and hydration should help promote the body to heal on its own. However, for families that easily share germs and routinely catch each others’ illnesses, antibiotics can help those with bacterial eye infections become non-contagious faster than on their own. Those patients diagnosed with a viral eye infection will not be prescribed antibiotics, as viruses aren’t affected by them.
Antibiotics for a bacterial eye infection are usually prescribed in the form of eye drops. If eye drops are to be applied by someone other than the patient, the person applying the drops should wear gloves or wash their hands thoroughly before and after assisting the patient. The applicator tip on the bottle of eye drops must not touch the eye or the medicine can become contaminated, and allow the bacteria to breed in the moist conditions of the capped bottle.
Treating a viral eye infection doesn’t require a doctor’s visit unless prescription pain medication is desired. Typically, symptoms will begin to dissipate after a few days of rest. Clean, cold compresses can be applied to the affected eye or eyes to soothe itching and reduce inflammation of the eyelids. When the eyelids swell slightly from inflamed tissue, this can cause an uncomfortable feeling of pressure, and the counter-pressure of a compress applied lightly to the eye can alleviate that feeling.
Avoid Making it Worse
Never rub or scratch at the eye, during an infection or at any other time. Friction between the eyelid and the eyeball can cause damage to the cornea, and result in prolonged discomfort. Applying gentle pressure with a clean tissue or washcloth can help with some of the more frustrating symptoms of an eye infection, and do so without causing further irritation or damage like rubbing may.
The use of artificial tears or saline eye baths may provide some relief from itching, burning reddened eyes, and are typically safe to use during an infection. There are many types of over-the-counter eye drops that may help, but be sure to read the package labels. Some eye drops are geared more toward allergy sufferers, and other are for sensitive eyes. Avoid eye drops medicated with menthol if severe pain or burning is present, as these drops will likely sting beyond the point of being worth any potential relief.
Are There Safe Home Remedies For Eye Infections?
While there are numerous home remedies many people swear by in terms of curing the painful and unpleasant symptoms of an eye infection, home remedies involving pouring anything on one’s eye should be approached with extreme caution and restraint.
One supposed home remedy for relieving the irritation of an eye infection involves lemon juice. Lemon juice is highly acidic, and while it is unlikely even undiluted lemon juice would cause permanent damage, it will likely sting and burn.
Aloe vera has incredible soothing properties when used as a topical salve on burns, poison ivy and other skin irritations.
Some people suggest applying some of the pure aloe vera secretions directly into the eye with a clean fingertip can help cure an eye infection, though these patients do so at their own risk.
Another homemade eye solution for an eye infection involves a more soothing natural substance: honey. Mix several tablespoons of pure honey in a cup of water, boil for one minute and allow the solution to cool. Place several drops of the solution into the eyes with an eye dropper. Honey may have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, and should not make the infection worse as long as the solution is boiled and cooled completely before use, and applied with a clean eye dropper.
Using Tea Bags
Regular black or green tea bags that have been steeped in warm or cool water may help reduce swollen eyelids and redness of the eyes. The natural antioxidants and tannins in the tea may also provide some comfort from itchiness and burning. Placing tea bags on an infected or irritated eye shouldn’t have any adverse effects. If using warm or hot tea bags, always test the heat by placing the tea bag on the inside of the wrist for a moment before applying to the eyes.
In general, when it comes to the eyes, it is better to err on the side of caution than to introduce a harmful substance that could cause permanent injury. Though lemon juice, tea and honey are unlikely to do any real harm, they also have no proven impact on clearing an eye infection or improving eye health.
Causes For Concern
Sometimes eye irritation is more than a sign of a simple eye infection. Rarely, symptoms may be severe and indicate serious medical conditions. For example, acute glaucoma can present with symptoms including redness and eye pain, similar to many common eye infections. However, if the eye pain is very severe and gets worse as time goes on, and if vision is cloudy or otherwise impaired, see a doctor right away. Acute glaucoma can result in permanently decreased vision or even blindness in extreme cases.
Temporal arteritis is another serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. This condition can be marked by pain and redness in the eye, but also with more full-body symptoms such as fever, body aches and pain and other flu-like signs. Pain in one or both temples, along with the other symptoms listed, may indicate temporal arteritis. This is an inflammatory disease that only a physician should attempt to treat. An aggressive round of oral antibiotics will likely be prescribed as treatment for this condition.