Do You Need to See the Doctor For Your Eye Infection?

As a primary care physician I have seen many hundreds of patients with eye infections. The majority of them do not require antibiotics but many people believe they need them. The only ones that benefit from antibiotics are those caused by bacteria. Over half the time the eye problem is caused by a virus or an allergy and antibiotics will only worsen those conditions.

The British Medical Journal published a study that showed that by answering three simple questions you can determine if you need to see a physician to be evaluated for an antibiotic. The three simple questions are:

  • Are your eyes glued together
  • Are your eyes itchy
  • Do you have a history of conjunctivitis (eye infections)

The researchers found that found that those who had glued eyes and no history of conjunctivitis or itch were more likely to have a bacterial infection. If your eyes are glued together and they are not itchy or you have a history of conjunctivitis this does not mean you absolutely need to go on antibiotics for your eye.

A simple inexpensive alternative (don't you just love those types?) is to take the day off of work and rent half a dozen videos and have a pot of hot water that you can dip a washcloth in. Every five minutes or so you can put the hot washcloth over the eye. This will dramatically increase the blood flow to the area. Your blood is filled with white blood cells and lymphocytes that will help eliminate the infection. My experience is that most people who try this will not require antibiotics.

British Medical Journal July 24, 2004;329:206-210

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