When Do You Need Antibiotics for Pink Eye?
By Susanne Medeiros
Jun. 19, 2017
Doctors often prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for pink eye. But antibiotics usually don’t help. In fact, they can do more harm than good.
A new study published this month suggests that most people with pink eye are getting the wrong treatment. About 60 percent of patients are prescribed antibiotic eyedrops, even though antibiotics are rarely necessary to treat this common eye infection. About 20 percent receive an antibiotic-steroid eyedrop that can prolong or worsen the infection.
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a common eye infection. It can make your eyes itchy and teary, with a watery discharge, and swollen, crusty eyelids. There are three types: viral, bacterial, and allergic conjunctivitis.
Pink eye is usually caused by a virus. Antibiotics do not kill viruses. Pink eye can also be an allergic reaction to something like pollen, dust mites, pets, contact lenses, or cosmetics. This kind of pink eye gets better when you avoid the things that are causing the allergy. Antibiotics don’t help allergies.
Antibiotics may be helpful when pink eye is caused by bacteria. But antibiotics are rarely necessary for bacterial conjunctivitis because most cases are mild and would resolve on their own within 7 to 14 days without treatment.
Antibiotics can cause problems. Antibiotics can cause itching, stinging, burning, swelling, and redness. They can cause more discharge. And they can cause allergic reactions in some people
Who should use antibiotics for pink eye?
You might need antibiotic eye drops and ointments for bacterial pink eye if:
- Your symptoms are severe.
- Your immune system is weak. This might happen if you have another illness, such as HIV/AIDS.
- Your infection does not get better in a week without treatment.
Know the symptoms of the three types of pink eye
- Viral pink eye: Symptoms can include watery eyes along with a cold, flu, or sore throat.
- Allergic pink eye: Symptoms include itchy eyes, swollen eyelids and a runny or itchy nose. It is more common in people who have other allergies, such as hay fever or asthma.
- Bacterial pink eye: Symptoms include a thick, often yellow-green discharge that lasts all day (usually not with a cold or flu)