10 Common Signs of an Eye Infection

Medically Reviewed by Carolin Schneider, MD

Photo Courtesy: ProfessionalStudioImages/E+/Getty Images

Eye infections can happen for a number of reasons, including wearing dirty contact lenses, touching your eyes with unclean hands or even having certain medical conditions. Sometimes, you might mistake an eye infection for an allergy or cold because the symptoms can be similar. If you’ve experienced some changes to your eyes, read on to find out if they could be the signs of an eye infection.

Swollen Eyelids

Swollen eyelids may be a sign of general eye problems, but they’re often signs of eye infections specifically if they’re painful. Painful swollen eyelids can be a symptom of bacterial or fungal infections from unclean contact lenses. If you experience painful swollen eyelids, avoid rubbing or touching them. This can transfer bacteria to your eye, which can make the symptoms of an eye infection worse.

Eye Discharge

Eye discharge is a telltale sign that bacteria are in your eye. One of the more severe symptoms of eye infections is waking up with discharge in the corner of your eye or having crusty eyelids. You can use a warm washcloth to free the crusts and help your eyes open.

Blurred Vision

Blurred vision may also be a sign of an eye infection. If left untreated, eye infections can lead to a loss of vision. So, if you notice it becoming harder and harder to see, it’s time to seek medical attention for your eyes.

Persistent Itching

Eyes that itch are a typical sign of allergies. This is one of the reasons why it’s so easy to mistake an eye infection for irritation that happens due to allergies. When you have an eye infection, the contact between the bacteria in your eye and your eye itself may cause itchiness. It’s best to refrain from scratching your eyes because that can transfer more bacteria to them. Instead, try an over-the-counter antihistamine, which will relieve the itching until you can visit a doctor.

Redness

Redness is a typical symptom of many eye conditions, including tiredness, allergies and infections. The irritation of the blood vessels on the surface of your eye may cause red eyes. This symptom is common among contact-wearers who often don’t clean their lenses, which is one of the leading causes of an eye infection.

Watery Eyes

Watery eyes or increased tearing is another sign of an eye infection that people often mistake for allergies. Clogged tear ducts may cause watery eyes. Don’t wipe those tears from your eyes with your finger, though; it’s best to do so with a tissue so you don’t exacerbate the infection. Antibiotics can quickly stop this symptom in both adults and children.

Light Sensitivity

Inflammation or irritation from an eye infection may cause light sensitivity. If you’re experiencing light sensitivity, you may want to reduce the amount of light that hits your eyes.

Flaking Eyelids

This symptom is also known as granulated eyelids and indicates blepharitis, a type of eye infection caused by bacterial or skin conditions. Sometimes lack of hygiene may cause blepharitis, but allergies or oily eye glands can also lead to it. You can use a topical cream, medicine or antibiotics to treat this type of infection.

Blocked Tear Duct

Chronic eye infections can cause your tear ducts to become clogged or blocked. Blocked tear ducts, in turn, can cause eye infections because the tears aren’t washing away the bacteria in your eye. It’s one of the more severe signs of an eye infection and may require surgery, but your doctor can usually treat it with antibiotics.

Symptoms in One Eye

Although many of these signs overlap with other conditions, particularly allergies, one characteristic in particular indicates it’s an eye infection. If these symptoms occur in both eyes, it’s most likely an allergy. However, if these symptoms only appear in one eye, they’re probably the result of an infection.

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Other typical symptoms of an eye infection may involve eye pain, eye discomfort and swelling around your eye. It’s vital to know the signs and symptoms of an eye infection so you avoid mistaking an infection for allergies or another condition. If you think you have an eye infection, seek medical attention and get treatment early before your symptoms worsen.

Resource Links:

Infectious uveitis: An enigma,” National Library of Medicine

Ocular Emergencies: Red Eye,” National Library of Medicine

Bacterial and Fungal Endophthalmitis,” National Library of Medicine

Common eye infections,” National Library of Medicine

Bacterial profile of ocular infections: a systematic review,” National Library of Medicine

Viral anterior uveitis,” National Library of Medicine