Tell-tale signs of an eye infection

Medically reviewed by Tina Patel, Contact Lens Optician at Feel Good Contacts.

Following good hand hygiene, washing and drying your hands before handling contact lenses is the best way to avoiding eye infections, and if this is done each time, the chances of eye infection from contacts are generally very low. There are multiple reasons why someone might get an eye infection, but good hygiene can reduce the chances.

What causes eye infections?

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is a condition that causes inflammation and redness in the layer of tissue that covers your eye called the conjunctiva. In order to recognise the symptoms, it’s important to understand what causes eye infections.

There are three main types of eye infections you should know about. Infective conjunctivitis is triggered by viruses or bacteria, whilst irritant conjunctivitis can be caused by things like shampoo, stray eyelashes, smoke or fumes. The other main category is allergic conjunctivitis, and this can be brought on by adverse reactions to pollen, animals or dust mites. It can also be caused by contact lenses or exposure to eye drops or certain other chemicals.

Symptoms of eye infections

Eye infection symptoms will depend on the cause of your infection, but the most common symptoms include redness of the eyes and a yellow, green or white discharge that can crust over your eyelashes. This discharge is called rheum and it is simply a mixture of mucin (watery mucus from the conjunctiva) and meibum (an oily substance that in between blinks, keeps your eye lubricated). This build-up tends to be particularly noticeable after you’ve been sleeping. The redness is caused by the tiny blood vessels in your conjunctiva widening, while the discharge is a result of inflammation of the glands responsible for producing tears.

Common eye infections include infectious conjunctivitis. The type of bacteria that causes this includes Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Bacterial conjunctivitis may cause you to experience a burning sensation or feel like there is grit in your eye, and you might have a swollen lymph node just behind your ear.

Alternatively, if you have allergic conjunctivitis, you may find your eyes become itchy, and if it’s triggered by eye drops, your eyelids may become sore and dry. Meanwhile, if you notice small spots developing on the inside of your eyelids, you might be allergic to your contact lenses.

See below various pictures of eye infections:

Red Eye


Red Spots on Eyelid

How long do eye infections last?

How long the infection will last always depends on the type of infection it is. If your eye infection is a result of a common viral infection, then it should take a few days to a couple of weeks to clear up. You can use warm compresses to soothe the discomfort of an eye infection and you should avoid touching your eye at all costs.

Do eye infections go away on their own?

Common eye infections usually clear up especially with the immediate use of antibiotic eye drops. Using drops or ointment should help to eradicate pink eye and you should consult with your doctor or pharmacist to find out how many times a day this needs to be applied.

When should you seek medical advice?

The vast majority of eye infections are nothing to worry about and they clear up within just a couple of weeks. You can speed up your recovery with the help of some simple self-help techniques. For example, you should stop wearing your contact lenses until all the symptoms have gone and make sure you resist the temptation to rub your eyes. To ease your symptoms, you could place a cool compress like the Thera- Pearl Eye Mask across your eyes. If you have allergic conjunctivitis, you should also try to avoid contact with the allergen and you may benefit from taking medicines such as antihistamines. If conjunctivitis goes untreated and becomes more severe, this can lead to an infection of the cornea.

However, if you have eye pain, experience sensitivity to light, intense redness or disturbed vision, this could be a more serious eye infection such as orbital cellulitis which can lead to permanent vision loss. If you experience these symptoms, you should book an appointment with your GP or see an eye care professional as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to check if there is a more serious cause behind your eye infection and suggest suitable treatment if necessary.

As a contact lens wearer, you can reduce your risk of getting an eye infection in the first place by following effective hygiene practices, and if you don’t want to have to clean your contacts, you could opt for daily disposables like our 1-Day Acuvue Moist lenses or our comfi Purest 1 Day contact lenses if you prefer wearing silicone hydrogel contact lenses.

For more information on eyecare, visit our comprehensive Eye Care Hub.

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