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What are the treatment options for viral eye infections?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Because a virus causes it, there is no way to cure a viral eye infection. Doctors will sometimes prescribe antibiotics in case what appears to be a viral eye infection is actually bacterial in nature, but antibiotics will not cure an actual viral infection. They are not effective against viruses such as the ones that cause viral eye infections. However, because it can be difficult to tell the difference between bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, for example, doctors will sometimes prescribe antibiotics just in case. Recurring cases of viral eye infections can be treated with medications to stop the progress of the infection, but the treatment will not destroy the existing virus.

Other treatment options for viral eye infections
Often all that's needed to treat viral eye infections are simple home remedies. Applying a compress of a washcloth dampened with warm water can work wonders to relieve itchiness and wash away discharge. It's vital that the washcloth used for the compress not be used for anything else, or put anywhere near the other eye if you only have an infection in one eye. Over-the-counter eye drops can also be useful for washing out the eye periodically. Corticosteroid eye drops can be prescribed for cases in which blurred vision or sensitivity to light becomes severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life, but in most cases no treatment is needed. In the cases where it is considered necessary, antiviral medication, taken through the mouth or with eye drops, can stop the progression of long-term infections, staving off blindness and damage to tissues of the eye.

Risk factors for viral eye infections
Some illnesses increase the risk of developing a viral eye infection. For example, having an infection of the upper respiratory system makes it more likely that you'll develop viral conjunctivitis. Other infections, like cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis, tend not to set in except in situations where another condition or illness such as AIDS weakens the immune system.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.