The 10 types of eye infections (causes and symptoms)

Pain, eye discharge, irritation, blurred vision, dryness, burning… These are some of the most common symptoms we suffer from when we suffer from an eye infection, a very common group of diseases that can lead to serious ailments and even blindness.

In addition to, of course, the immune system, the main human protective barrier against infection is the skin. This tissue prevents the entry of pathogens into our body, so those areas not protected by it are more susceptible to being infected.

The eyes, therefore, being exposed to the external environment, are an easily accessible route for specialized pathogens in their infection. In this article we will see what are the main infections that can develop in the eyes, as well as the most used treatments and some tips to prevent them.


    What is an eye infection?

    An eye infection is a disease that develops when pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites invade an area of ​​the eyeball or nearby areas. It includes, therefore, infections in the cornea (transparent part of the eye), the conjunctiva (membrane that covers the eye), eyelids, retina, etc.

    There are many different types of eye infectionsTherefore, a correct diagnosis is vital to subsequently apply the most appropriate treatment. In most cases they are easy to cure; the problem comes in underdeveloped countries, where they do not have access to the necessary therapies.

    Despite being able to affect anyone, they tend to be more common in children or in people with hygiene or health problems, especially if they have a weakened immune system.

    What are the main types of eye infections?

    Depending on the causative pathogen, there are many types of eye infections, with a severity that will depend on the development of the disease and the symptoms or complications that can derive from it.

    Here are some of the most common eye infections.

    1. Conjunctivitis

    Conjunctivitis is a bacterial or viral infection of the conjunctiva, the transparent membrane that lines the eyelid and cornea. The characteristic redness of the eye is due to the fact that, due to the immune system's response to infection, the blood vessels of the conjunctiva become inflamed and more visible.

    Although the symptoms of pain, swelling, and tearing can be very bothersome, conjunctivitis rarely affects vision. It is a highly contagious disease and can be basically of two types:

    • Bacterial conjunctivitis:

    It is the most common type of conjunctivitis. It is very contagious, especially in the hot times of the year. Its main characteristic is that the eye turns red and a mucous discharge occurs in the lower part of the eye. It begins in one of the two eyes but usually spreads quickly to the other.

    It is the most dangerous type of conjunctivitis because, in addition to not being able to be treated with antibiotics, it has associated symptoms that include general malaise, sore throat and fever, which is not the case with bacterial. It is highly contagious because the person can transmit it when they still have no symptoms. In this case, the eye acquires a more pinkish color.

    2. Keratitis

    Keratitis is an infection of the cornea, the transparent tissue in front of the iris. If left untreated, keratitis can be a serious infection that causes complications and permanent damage to your vision.

    Keratitis presents with symptoms similar to conjunctivitis, in addition to sensitivity to light, decreased vision, a sensation of a foreign body in the eye, and difficulty opening the eyes due to pain.

    Depending on the causative pathogen, there are different types of keratitis:

    This type of keratitis is caused by many different species of bacteria, especially the genera "Staphylococcus" and "Pseudomonas", which manage to penetrate the cornea after an injury to it or due to a lack of personal hygiene. It can be serious since if not treated it is possible that it results in blindness in the spread to other tissues.

    The Herpes Simplex Virus can cause an infection of the cornea with the aforementioned symptoms. It can be more serious since antibiotic treatment does not work.

    Fungal keratitis develops when some species of fungi infect the cornea. Generally caused by the genus "Fusarium", these fungal infections usually occur when we have injured the cornea and have a free way to enter.

    • Acanthamoeba keratitis:

    Acanthamoeba is a parasite that can infect the cornea especially in contact lens wearers. That is why the safety instructions must be followed, as this parasite can take advantage of poor hygienic conditions in these lenses to reach the cornea and cause its infection.

    3. Stye

    A stye is an infection of the edge of the lower eyelid that is detected by the presence of a red lump with pus and that brings with it a painful symptomatology. They usually disappear without any treatment within a few days, although the pain can be relieved with some antibiotic ointments.

    This disease occurs when bacteria from the staphylococcus group infect the sebaceous glands of the eyelid.

    4. Trachoma

    Trachoma is an eye disease that represents the leading cause of blindness in the world: almost 2 million people suffer from visual impairment due to this infection.

    Responsible for irreversible damage, the bacterium "Chlamydia trachomatis" causes a highly contagious eye disease, especially in Third World countries, where it is endemic.

    At first, it causes irritation in the eyes and eyelids and later leads to swelling of these and drainage of pus from the eyes. Recurrent infections from this bacteria can end up causing vision loss and even blindness.

    5. Endophthalmitis

    Endophthalmitis is an internal infection of the eyeball. Although the previous ones were infections of external parts of the eye, this disease occurs inside the eye, so without proper treatment, the consequences can be serious.

    It usually occurs when there is a penetrating eye injury, such as cataract surgery. The open wound can lead to infection by different species of bacteria, which will require treatment with antibiotics.

    Although rare, infection of the eyeball can also be caused by fungi, usually in tropical countries. This type of infection is even more serious than the bacterial one.

    6. Blepharitis

    Blepharitis is an infection of the upper eyelid where eyelashes grow. The sebaceous glands are infected by different pathogens (usually bacteria) that cause a disease that is not easy to treat.

    It is usually a chronic problem that, despite not being too contagious or causing permanent damage to vision, is annoying and unsightly, as the eyelids take on a greasy appearance and the eyelashes grow abnormally.

    7. Retinitis

    Retinitis is an infection of the retina, which is the inner, fabric-like surface of the eye where images are projected. It is usually caused by Cytomegalovirus, which develops a viral infection that can be serious.

    The disease begins with spots in the field of vision and blurred vision. The loss of vision begins on the sides until it ends up triggering a loss of central vision.

    Without proper treatment or a correct response from the immune system, the virus ends up destroying the retina and damaging the optic nerve.

    8. Toxoplasmosis

    Ocular toxoplasmosis is a disease of the retina caused by the infection and replication of a parasite: "Toxoplasma gondii". The infection can be caused by the consumption of water or food with eggs of the parasite, which after being ingested, circulate through the body until they reach the retina.

    It causes retinitis that can also be serious, especially due to the hypersensitivity reactions of our immune system to the presence of the parasite.

    9. Dacryocystitis

    Dacryocystitis is an infection of the lacrimal sac, the area responsible for producing tears within the eyeball and to allow its drainage. It is an acute or chronic infection that does not usually spread to both eyes, it is located in one of them.

    It is usually caused by bacteria and especially affects newborns and women over 50 years of age. The main cause is the obstruction of the lacrimal sac, which encourages the development and growth of pathogenic bacteria.

    10. Newborn ophthalmia

    Newborn ophthalmia refers to all those eye diseases that develop in a newborn. That is, all the pathologies that we have seen are included, taking into account that their severity is much greater since the newborn's immune system is not fully developed.

    The infection can occur for different causes, although generally it is because the child's tear duct is obstructed or because the mother, despite not presenting symptoms, has infected her with some of the pathogens during or after childbirth.

    Treatment of eye infections

    Eye infections, despite the potential danger of their symptoms, often represent relatively easy diseases to treat as long as the means are available.

    Many of them are self-limiting, that is, the body will end up healing them on its own. In case the immune system cannot or if you want to speed up the process, there are treatments.

    In the case of bacterial infections, it is usually enough to apply ophthalmic drops with antibiotics, which must be prescribed by a doctor. With regard to viral infections, we will have to wait for the body to fight them, helping it with the application of creams and compresses. For yeast infections, there are also antifungal medications that eliminate them.

    Prevention of eye infections

    Since the symptoms can be very bothersome and some of the infections are difficult to treat, it is best to prevent the development of these diseases.

    The best measures to do this are the following:

    • Don't touch your eyes with dirty hands
    • Avoid contact with infected people
    • Adequate personal hygiene measures
    • In case of wearing contact lenses, respect the rules of use
    • Avoid bathing in dirty water

    Bibliographic references

    • Levon Shahsuvaryan, M., Ohanesian, R. (2005) "Eye Diseases". USAID From the American People.
    • Galloway, NR, Amoaku, WMK, Browning, AC (1999) "Commom Eye Diseases and their Management". UK: Springer.
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