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What are Some Causes of Eye Infections?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Eye infections can be quite painful or quite irritating, and should be immediately addressed by a doctor. This is especially the case if one has suffered trauma to the eye and suspects a foreign body might be trapped in the eye. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, commonly called pink eye, or styes, also require quick treatment.

Two of the most common causes of eye infections are viral or bacterial conjunctivitis. Both forms are extremely contagious and cause the eye to tear excessively, look very bloodshot, and in the mornings the eyes may be almost shut together from discharge. Sometimes a conjunctivitis infection will jump from one eye to the other, especially if one rubs the eyes. A doctor’s diagnosis and antibiotic usually help, even in cases where the cause is viral.

It is also important to see a doctor if you suspect conjunctivitis as it may be accompanied with an ear or sinus infection. This is most common when one has been suffering from cold symptoms prior to the appearance of the infection. Some people require oral antibiotics, as well, to treat infections of the ear or sinuses.

A third form of conjunctivitis may be caused by allergies. Sometimes this can be treated alone with over the counter drops. In other cases, these eye infections require prescription eye drops. In any case, a doctor should evaluate the symptoms to rule out the more infectious forms of pink eye.

Either a foreign body or exposure to harsh chemicals can cause eye infections. In some cases a foreign body may have touched the eye and caused scratches to the cornea. Though corneal scratches can heal quickly, they normal require antibiotic drops or ointment. They are also extremely painful. If one suspects a foreign body like glass has gotten into the eye, the eye can be gently rinsed in water. If this does not resolve pain, then visit a doctor to rule out a corneal scratch.

Chemicals which come in contact with the eye may also cause infections in the eye. In these cases, most doctors recommend first calling poison control for instructions because different chemicals require different treatment.

A blunt trauma to the eye or recent eye surgery can lead to eye infections. Trauma to the eye not from surgery requires immediate medical attention. After surgery, infections can develop. Usually after an eye surgery, doctors will give one a list of things to look for that might indicate infection.

An eye infection like a stye actually occurs in the eyelid’s glands. Sometimes stye medicine is recommended, but frequently treatment consists of using warm compresses on the affected eye, several times a day. If one gets styes frequently, then follow instruction with one’s doctor for treatment. Conversely, if this is your first stye, consult a doctor.

The tissue around the eyes can become infected and cause swelling of the eyelids. This is a very serious condition called periorbital cellulitis. It is a bacterial infection and requires antibiotic treatment immediately. These infections may be caused by the infection of an insect bite, pimple or scratch located near the eye. Infection then moves to the skin and attacks the eyelids. One should always be watchful of bites, scratches or pimples near skin tissue that surrounds the eye. A little antibiotic ointment may help stave off cellulitis.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon176267 — On May 15, 2011

My daughter's school board makes them wear protective eyewear during gym classes when they are playing badminton, floor hockey or lacrosse and they share the glasses. Every time she wears the glasses a day or two later her eye gets red or there is a bump on it. I'm wondering if sharing eyewear can cause eye infections?

By yournamehere — On Aug 07, 2010

@closerfan12 -- Well, there are so many different chronic eye infection causes that it can be hard to know what's going on.

If your son has allergies, that could be a factor, or it could just be a recurring case of pink-eye.

This is just an out-there question, but does he by any chance use makeup? Sometimes "guyliner" can clog tear ducts and lead to an infection.

By closerfan12 — On Aug 07, 2010

Does anybody know what some causes of chronic eye infections are? My 15 year old son has started to get one about every three to four months, and I can't for the life of me figure out what causes them.

Does anybody have any ideas?

By musicshaman — On Aug 07, 2010

Although eye infections normally heal pretty easily, and are not usually a sign of anything serious, infant eye infections can be scary.

Because babies do not have a fully developed immune system, what is a regular eye infection to an adult can be a severe eye infection for a baby.

Babies can have styes, conjunctivitis, and even blocked tear ducts like adults, so be sure to know the signs of eye infections in children, and take appropriate steps to treat it before the infection becomes serious.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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