Infective Conjunctivitis Treatment

Authored by Dr Mary Lowth, 24 Feb 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Helen Huins, 24 Feb 2017

Without treatment, most cases of infective conjunctivitis clear on their own within 1-2 weeks. Often they clear within 2-5 days.
  • Not treating - this is a common option for mild or moderate infections. Your tears contain chemicals that fight off germs (bacteria). If symptoms become worse then see a doctor to check your eye and to see if you need treatment.
  • Bathing the eyes - using cool clean water; this may be soothing.
  • Lubricating eye drops - these may reduce eye discomfort. They are available over the counter, as well as on prescription.

Antibiotic preparations

These may be prescribed and might be:

  • Eye drops such as chloramphenicol.
  • Eye ointment such as chloramphenicol or fusidic acid (actually an oily drop, halfway between an ointment and a drop).

Note: treatment using antibiotic preparations tends to be for more severe cases, as they make very little difference in mild cases, which get better anyway. It is also used for those cases not clearing on their own. (Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, as some eye drops may not be suitable.)

  • Do not wear contact lenses until symptoms have completely gone and for 24 hours after the last dose of any eye drops or ointment.
  • You can clean secretions from eyelids and lashes with cotton wool soaked in water.
  • Infective conjunctivitis is contagious, which means it can be passed on by touching. The likelihood of passing on the infection is not high unless you are in close contact with others. Washing your hands regularly, particularly after touching your eyes, and not sharing towels or pillows, will help avoid it.

Adenovirus conjunctivitis infection usually settles by itself within 2-4 weeks. You can help make it more comfortable with cold compresses and lubricants, such as chilled artificial tears (available from pharmacies). Occasionally a pharmacist or doctor may suggest antibiotic drops to prevent additional bacterial infection.

Preventing transmission of viral conjunctivitis is important. Wash hands thoroughly and often, keep hands away from your eyes and avoid sharing towels and cosmetics. Those who wear contact lenses should stop using them until the condition has settled down.

See a doctor if symptoms change, or do not settle within a few days, or if you are concerned that you have anything other than a common conjunctivitis. In particular, see a doctor urgently if:

  • You develop marked eye pain.
  • Light starts to hurt your eyes (photophobia).
  • Spots or blisters develop on the skin next to the eye.
  • Your vision becomes affected.
  • Your newborn or very young baby develops conjunctivitis.

Most conjunctival infections are not serious, do not harm the eye, and clear in a few days. However, some infections such as herpes or chlamydia persist for longer than usual, are more serious and need special treatment.

Most serious eye infections feel different to simple conjunctivitis because they cause significant pain. Many also affect vision. Some other conditions, including allergic conjunctivitis, can appear similar to infective conjunctivitis initially. This makes it particularly important that you go back to your doctor if things become worse or if they do not settle as expected.

Further reading and references

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