How Do You Treat an Eye Infection?

Reviewed on 1/26/2022
A man's red and inflamed eye and eyelid
Eye infection treatments vary depending on the cause. They typically include medications such as eye drops (antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, steroid, antifungal, antiviral, allergy), pain medication, and home remedies (warm compress, avoid touching the eye, not wearing makeup).

An eye infection occurs when bacteria, viruses, or other agents infect the eye. Eye infection can affect the eyelids, cornea, and conjunctiva.

Eye infections are usually treated with medications. The specific treatment depends on the type and cause of the eye infection that is present. 

  • Treatment for conjunctivitis (“pink eye”), which is an infection of the conjunctiva that may be caused by bacteria, viruses, allergic reactions, or irritants, includes:
    • May go away on its own without treatment
    • Some types of conjunctivitis can be treated
      • Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotic eye drops or gels
      • Itching and irritation caused by other problems can be treated with eye drops used to treat allergies
  • Treatment for keratitis, which is inflammation of the cornea that may be caused by bacteria, viruses, contaminated water, eye injury, or contaminated contact lenses, includes:
    • Antibiotic, antifungal, or antiviral eye drops
    • Steroid eye drops
  • Treatment for stye (“hordeolum”), which presents as painful, red bumps under the eyelid or at the base of the eyelashes caused by a bacterial infection of the oil glands in the eyelid or eyelashes, includes: 
    • May go away on its own without treatment
    • Warm, wet compress on the stye
    • Do not squeeze or pop a stye
    • Avoid wearing eye makeup or contact lenses until the stye is healed
    • Antibiotic cream or ointment
    • Draining the stye (done by a medical professional)
  • Treatment for blepharitis, which is inflammation at the edge of the eyelids caused by bacteria, includes:
    • Warm, wet pressure on the eyes 
    • Gently rub the eyelids after putting warm, wet pressure on the eyes
    • Wash the eyelids with plain warm water or warm water with a drop of baby shampoo on a clean washcloth, gauze pad, or cotton swab to gently cleanse crusty material off the eyelashes and eyelids
    • Antibiotic cream or ointment applied to the eyelids
    • Oral antibiotics
    • Topical steroids
  • Treatment for corneal ulcers, which are open sores on the cornea that may be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, abrasions or burns, dry eye syndrome, or Bell’s palsy, includes:
    • Antibiotic, antifungal, or antiviral eye drops
    • Oral antifungal medicine
    • Injections of medication near the eye
    • Steroid eye drops (use of steroids is controversial as it may worsen infection)
    • Anti-inflammatory eye drops 
    • Pain medication 
    • Corneal transplant in severe cases
  • Treatment for uveitis, which is inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye that may be caused by viruses such as herpes, injury, or autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, includes: 
    • Steroids 
      • Eye drops
      • Injections into the eye (for posterior uveitis)
      • Pills
    • Eye drops for pain
    • Other medicines to treat the uveitis or the condition causing it

What Are Symptoms of Eye Infections?

Symptoms of eye infections depend on the type of infection. 

  • Symptoms of conjunctivitis include:
    • Eyes appear pink or red
    • Itching or burning eyes
    • Eyes weep or ooze a gooey liquid
    • Eyes become stuck shut, especially when first waking up
  • Symptoms of keratitis include:
    • Eye redness
    • Pain, which can be mild to severe
    • Tearing
    • Eye discharge
    • Blurred vision
    • Sensitivity to light
    • In severe cases, the cornea may appear gray or have white to gray areas
  • Symptoms of stye include:
    • A red and painful lump on the edge of the eyelid that may resemble a pimple
    • Eyelid pain and swelling
    • Tearing 
  • Symptoms of blepharitis include:
    • Red, swollen, itchy eyelids
    • Eye redness
    • Gritty or burning feeling in the eyes
    • Crusty, matted eyelashes in the morning
    • Flaking or scaling of eyelid skin
  • Symptoms of corneal ulcers include:
    • Severe eye pain and soreness 
    • Feeling something is in the eye
    • Eye redness 
    • Tearing
    • Pus or other discharge
    • Sensitivity to light
    • Blurred vision
    • Swelling of the eyelids
    • White spot on the cornea that may be visible when looking in the mirror
  • Symptoms of uveitis include:
    • Eye redness 
    • Eye pain
    • Discomfort looking at bright lights
    • Blurred vision
    • Constricted pupil 
    • Floaters 

How Are Eye Infections Diagnosed?

Eye infections are often diagnosed with a patient’s history and an examination of the eye with an ophthalmoscope, which is a lighted instrument used to examine the eye. 

Other tests to diagnose eye infection may include: 

  • A special dye called fluorescein to light up and check for damage to the cornea
  • Examination of the eye with a slit lamp
  • Culture of pus or discharge coming from the eye
  • Tissue sample to identify the infection


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Reviewed on 1/26/2022
Image Source: iStock Images