6 Common Adult Eye Infections You Should Watch For

woman with possible eye infection rubbing her eye in painA little while ago, we published a blog post all about eye infections and other conditions in children that parents need to pay attention to. Did you know that at least three of those infections are ones that adults themselves should be concerned about contracting as well? Pink eye (conjunctivitis), stye/chalazion, and orbital cellulitis may actually occur more frequently in adults than children.

We’ll do a quick review of the symptoms of those infections in today’s article, but we also want to draw attention to a few more bacterial and viral infections that commonly affect adults: keratitis, blepharitis, and uveitis.

How to Know When You Might Have an Eye Infection

Noticing a pattern with the names of these adult eye infections? Many end in “-itis,” which signals the fact that these conditions are inflammatory in nature—often leading to swelling and irritation in the eyes. Anytime your eyes are red, itchy, swollen, or painful, it is a good idea to call your ophthalmologist or family eye care provider.

Most eye infections are easily treatable and won’t lead to permanent vision loss. However, a few can be more serious. And because some infections are viral, they will not simply respond to antibiotic eye drops you may get from an urgent care center or primary care doctor.

Read on to learn more about each of these conditions and discover which are considered emergencies.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) Symptoms

Most commonly called pink eye, conjunctivitis is probably the most well-recognized eye disease. It causes eye redness, itchiness, tearing, and discharge. Conjunctivitis can be caused by allergies or by a viral or bacterial infection.

Is Pink Eye an Emergency?

Pink is rarely an eye health emergency. Though, depending on its cause, you will need medical attention to help clear up the infection and ensure that you are not spreading it to others. Additionally, you may not be able to determine the nature of your pink eye on your own.

As we’ve discussed previously here on our Campus Eye Center blog, conjunctivitis is highly contagious when caused by a viral or bacterial infection. However, when allergies are the cause, conjunctivitis is not infectious.

This particular eye disease usually only lasts about a week in its bacterial form, but may require medicated eye drops to eliminate the infection and feel better. Viral conjunctivitis can take 3 weeks to resolve and is usually not treated with meds.

Symptoms of Styes and Chalazia

Both characterized as eyelid and tearing disorders, styes and chalazia (plural of chalazion) often look and feel the same to patients. Both present as swelling or lumps on the eyelids, though styes are an infection of the eyelash follicles and chalazia are caused by blocked oil glands. They can be red and itchy, as well as unsightly and uncomfortable.

Are Styes or Chalazions an Emergency?

Both styes and chalazia can be treated with warm compresses. Neither condition represents an emergency, but they should be diagnosed and examined by an eye doctor. While not technically an infection, chalazia can grow large enough to impact vision and may need to be surgically treated.

Orbital Cellulitis Symptoms

Also a common eye infection in children, orbital cellulitis is a bacterial or fungal infection that causes the eye socket (aka “the orbit”) to swell. Orbital cellulitis makes itself known with eye pain, impaired vision, fever, and eye immobility.

Is Orbital Cellulitis an Emergency?

Yes. Because it can develop from a sinus infection or occur after dental procedures, among other seemingly minor health events, orbital cellulitis can sneak up on patients. It can also spread extremely quickly throughout the body and cause vision loss.

If you are experiencing eye pain and swelling that suggest cellulitis, you should call your eye doctor right away. The treatment for orbital cellulitis can include hospitalization for intravenous antibiotics and emergency surgery.

Keratitis: What is It and What are the Symptoms?

When you have an ulcer on your cornea, it is known as keratitis. While keratitis isn’t always caused by an infection (severe dry eye can also lead to open sores on the cornea), it is a serious—and painful—eye problem that needs to be treated right away.

If you have developed a corneal ulcer, your eye will feel sore and severely painful. You will also experience redness, tearing, discharge (like pus), swelling, light sensitivity, and blurry vision. Additionally, you may notice the presence of hypopyon or “sterile pus,” which will appear as a yellowish substance at the bottom of the colored part of your eye.

Keratitis can be caused by microbes actually infecting the cornea, which is a risk with contact lens wear, or it can be viral, fungal, or even parasitic in nature. For instance, the virus that causes cold sores (herpes simplex) may cause recurring keratitis.

Is Keratitis an Emergency?

In short, yes—infectious keratitis especially is a cause of blindness. It is an eye health emergency that requires assessment and treatment by an opthalmologist. Treatment usually involves eye drops that target the root cause of an individual patient’s keratitis, though you may need to have medicine injected near the eye.

Blepharitis: What is It and What are the Symptoms?

Like stye/chalazion, blepharitis is a condition that involves the eyelids. You may experience redness, swelling, or a burning sensation, and your eyelashes may have crusts on them at the base. If you have oily skin or suffer from dandruff or rosacea, you may be more likely to develop this uncomfortable—but extremely common–condition.

Watch this video from our friends at the American Academy of Ophthalmology that explains what you should know about blepharitis.

Is Blepharitis an Emergency?

Blepharitis is not an emergency, but it also does not have a cure and often recurs. Your ophthalmologist can help you manage blepharitis with things like antibiotics and specialized eye drops, however.

Uveitis: What is It and What are the Symptoms?

When the middle layer of your eyeball—the uvea—becomes inflamed, you’re experiencing uveitis. Depending on which part of the uvea is affected, you could have anterior uveitis, intermediate uveitis, or posterior uveitis, and each type tends to be chronic. Some patients can experience all three types at the same time.

One of the challenges with uveitis is that it does not necessarily cause pain. However, you will likely have redness, blurry vision, and experience significant light sensitivity when any part of the uvea is swollen. If you have a systemic inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis, you are more likely to develop uveitis.

Is Uveitis an Emergency?

It can be. As mentioned, uveitis can be somewhat difficult for a patient to recognize, as symptoms may be subtle—especially at first. If the uvea is inflamed for a long time, it can damage vital tissues inside the eye and cause blindness. This means you should seek treatment as soon as you can.

Have an Eye Health Issue? Campus Eye Center is Here to Help in Lancaster

At Campus Eye Center, our mission is to protect, preserve, and improve the vision of those we serve in Lancaster County by utilizing a patient-centered practice approach characterized by outstanding clinical, technical, surgical, and personal expertise and service.

Even if it has been a while since you’ve had a routine eye exam, our team of experienced board-certified MDs, ophthalmologists, and doctors of optometry is here to ensure your good vision and eye health with treatments for any eye infections or other eye health concerns.

Give us a call to schedule your next eye exam or vision screening today.