Eye infections cause redness, tearing and drainage (yellow-green pus or watery), and can be highly contagious. A certain type of eye infection—a bacterial eye infection—may need treatment with a medicine called an antibiotic eye drop.
What are antibiotic eye drops?
Antibiotic eye drops are prescribed by a doctor to treat bacterial eye infections. They work by killing the bacteria (microscopic organism) that entered the eye and caused the infection.
What causes bacterial eye infections?
Bacterial conjunctivitis is the most common cause of bacterial eye infection. It’s easily spread among children in daycare and at school.
Contact-lens related eye infections. Sleeping in contact lenses and wearing contaminated (dirty) contact lenses can also lead to bacterial eye infections. Observe proper contact lens use to avoid infection.
Antibiotic eye drops only treat bacterial eye infections
The bacteria-killing medicine in antibiotic eye drops will not work for other types of eye infections or allergic reactions, such as:
- Viral conjunctivitis. Antibiotic drops are ineffective in the treatment of conjunctivitis caused by a virus.
- Allergic conjunctivitis. This irritation of the eye is not an infection—it comes from an allergic reaction to something like dust, pollen, or pets. Antibiotic eye drops will not help relieve the symptoms of an eye allergy.
- Fungal eye infections (fungal keratitis). These are very rare infections and are usually caused by wearing contaminated contact lenses.
Although antibiotic eye drops are ineffective for these conditions, you may need other eye drops, medicine, or treatment.
When to see a doctor
If you think you have any type of eye infection, see a doctor. They can see if you need antibiotic eye drops or other treatment.
Symptoms of eye infection include:
- swollen eyes
- light sensitivity
- drainage (yellow-green pus or watery eyes). This is a common symptom of bacterial eye infections.
To use antibiotic eye drops or any other drop, follow your doctor’s instructions and these general guidelines to putting in eye drops for the medicine to work best.
Antibiotic eye drops usually help symptoms get better after three days. Call your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away.
Things to remember about antibiotic eye drops:
- Don’t use anyone else’s prescription.
- Take the full course, don’t stop early/without consulting your doctor, even if things seem better.
- Don’t keep unused prescriptions around to use later.
Content shared from the AAO.org