Our eyes are indispensable organs, and they’re quite exposed to a number of pathogens that can adversely affect our vision. Children, whose hands most often wander to their eyes, are particularly susceptible to some of the most common infections of the eye, though even adults can fall victim to these infections as well. The body can usually fight off these infections without further intervention, but some instances may require the care of an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Bacterial growth within the oil glands near the eye can lead to painful and unsightly inflammation along the eyelid. A hordeolum, better known as a sty, is a common eye infection that can increase tear production as the body tries to flush the gland of the dead skin, excess oil, and bacteria that have accumulated. Placing a warm, damp cloth on the sty, as well as taking antibiotics if necessary, can reduce some of the pain and swelling. A sty usually resolves itself during the course of a week, but a persistent sty may require a doctor to intervene.
The dreaded case of pink eye is not only one of the most common infections of the eye but also arguably the most contagious. This inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the mucous membrane that lines the eyelids, spreads rapidly due to the frequency at which we tend to touch or rub our eyes, allowing pathogens to infiltrate them. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis—making an exception for the third form of conjunctivitis, allergic—spread rapidly, and poor ophthalmological practices can create breeding grounds without the proper preventive measures against the infections’ spread. Eye care professionals, particularly during cold and flu season, when conjunctivitis runs rampant, should take great care to disinfect all their instruments or use disposable counterparts when applicable to prevent the spread of this contagious and eminently uncomfortable disease.
Similar to conjunctivitis is blepharitis, an inflammation of not just the conjunctiva but also the eyelids themselves. Blepharitis most commonly occurs when dead skin or dandruff finds its way into the oil glands nearest the eyelids, where the debris clogs the glands and causes swelling. Eye drops may alleviate some of the swelling and discomfort, while antibiotics can help in extreme situations.
Cold sores are common infections, and the HSV-1 virus that causes them can also infiltrate the eye. Should this occur, you may experience blurred vision and increased sensitivity to light along with inflammation and discharge. Usually, this infection runs its course in just over a week. Herpes of the eye may seem like an outlier, but it’s important to remember that nearly half the American population is exposed in childhood to the HSV-1 virus, which usually lies dormant, with outbreaks occurring scarcely.