Treatment for minor eye infections will depend on the type of infection and its cause. Most cases of minor eye infections do not necessarily require medical treatment, as they usually clear up unaided in a couple of weeks. If treatment is required there are several options available; ranging from self-care techniques to medication. The details of these treatments are outlined below.
Most cases of infected conjunctivitis will not require medical treatment as the condition will clear up within two weeks. However, there are several ways in which you can ease the symptoms at home and treatments are available that will help speed up the recovery time. These treatments will depend on which type of conjunctivitis is present. The self-care advice and treatment options are outlined below:
- Washing hands regularly will help stop the infection spreading to others. This is particularly important after touching an infected eye(s).
- Contact lens wearers should refrain from wearing lenses until the infection has passed. It is important not to use old lenses after an eye infection, as this can potentially be a source of re-infection. It is always recommended to use new lenses, solutions and cases after a bout of conjunctivitis.
- Use cotton wool soaked in water to gently wash away any sticky discharge from eyelids and eyelashes.
- Lubricating eye drops are available over-the-counter at most pharmacies. These will help to ease symptoms of soreness and irritation in the eye(s).
- Avoid rubbing the eyes, even though they may feel itchy.
Antibiotic Eye Drops
Antibiotics aren’t frequently prescribed for conjunctivitis, as the infection usually clears up by itself and if left untreated the condition poses very little risk of any associated complications. However, if an infection needs to be resolved quickly, has lasted for longer than two weeks, or if it is particularly severe; then antibiotic drops can be used to help treat the condition. The two main types of antibiotic drops used to treat conjunctivitis are chloramphenicol and fusidic acid.
- Chloramphenicol is typically the first choice of antibiotic treatment. It is available as eye drops and also as an eye ointment. It is available without a prescription and is suitable for the treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis. To achieve the best results it is important to closely follow the instructions in the patient information leaflet.
- Fusidic acid may be prescribed should chloramphenicol be unsuitable. It is often prescribed for children and the elderly, as it doesn’t need to be applied as often. It is also the preferred treatment for pregnant women. Fusidic acid comes in the form of eye-drops and should be applied as directed by the GP, or as instructed in the patient information leaflet.
These treatments can briefly cause blurred vision. It is strongly advised to avoid driving or operating machinery immediately after using these eye drops/ointments.
If you suffer from blepharitis, it is important to cleanse your eyelids on a daily basis. This is regardless of whether you are currently presenting with any symptoms. By adopting a good eyelid hygiene routine, recurrent bouts of blepharitis can either be minimised or even prevented. There are several eyelid cleansing solutions or eyelid wipes available. Your GP or pharmacist can help with advice regarding which cleaning solutions are most suitable.
- Boil some water then leave it to cool to a warm temperature.
- Use a clean flannel, soak it in the water.
- Place the flannel over the affected eye for around 10 minutes.
- Ensure the flannel doesn’t get cold by reheating it in warm water.
(If using a microwavable eye-bag, ensure it is cleaned before and after each use).
- Using the little finger, gently massage closed eyelids in a circular motion.
- Using a cotton wool bud, gently roll the bud downwards, starting from the upper eyelid and moving down towards the lashes. Repeat this process widthways along the upper and lower eyelids. This technique helps to push the excess oils out of the glands.
Eyelid massage can cause mild irritation to the eyes at first. However, this is normal and the irritation should subside with time.
Antibiotic drops, ointments and creams
This line of treatment is usually reserved for those who do not respond to non-medicinal treatments. Antibiotic drops, ointments and creams are typically applied for around 4-6 weeks. These treatments should be applied gently to the edges of the eyelids, usually several times a day. As the condition improves the frequency of application can be reduced as appropriate.
In some cases, a low dose oral antibiotic may be prescribed as an anti-inflammatory agent. This line of treatment will last a minimum of 3-4 months, or in some cases much longer. Oral antibiotics will typically be prescribed if blepharitis hasn’t responded to other treatments. They are usually taken once or twice daily.
In most cases, styes will clear up without the need for treatment, especially after they burst. It is not recommended to burst the stye yourself. Most styes will burst and heal naturally within three weeks. There are treatment methods that can be adopted to help ease the symptoms and speed up the recovery time. These include:
- Warm compress (see blepharitis treatment): this method will encourage the stye to open and release the pus inside. Once drained away, the symptoms should improve quickly.
Painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help to ease the associated pain. These treatments are available without prescription from any pharmacy. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure it is suitable for you to take.
- A mild antibiotic eye ointment such as Golden Eye can help to clear styes quickly and reduce irritation.
- Antibiotics are not recommended for treating styes. However, they can sometimes be prescribed to help treat the associated complications, such as chalazions - these are cysts that develop if a gland in the eyelid becomes blocked.