Whether it’s a minor cut that becomes red and inflamed or a persistent stomach flu that keeps you home in bed, we have all dealt, at one point or another, with infection, and unfortunately many of the viruses, bacteria, and fungi that can invade the human body are also capable of attacking the surface or interior of the eye. While eye infections are usually only a relatively minor nuisance, they can, if left untreated, lead to far more serious concerns like corneal ulcers or even permanent vision loss. That is one of the many reasons why it is so important to come in for a comprehensive medical eye exam whenever you begin to experience any eye-related difficulties. However, understanding how your eyes can become infected and what you can do to prevent it will help you keep your eyes healthy and avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness.
Whenever you rub your face and eyes, the common bacteria found on the skin or in the mouth and nose can infect the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids. This can result in a condition called conjunctivitis, or pink eye, which can make the eyes red and itchy, as though there were sand trapped inside them, and cause mucus discharge or crusting over of the eyelid. Normally, these bacteria cannot penetrate into the cornea (the clear layer in the front of the eye) but an existing eye injury, lack of oxygen due to contact lenses, or a weak immune system may allow them to do so, leading to a more serious infection called keratitis. Those suffering from keratitis experience many of the same symptoms associated with conjunctivitis, like the painful, itchy sensation and mucus discharge, but can also develop a painful sensitivity to bright light and redness or small red lines in the white of the eye. Bacterial infections of the eye are easily treatable with antibiotics, but can also generally be avoided by keeping your hands away from your eyes and keeping your contact lenses clean.
Infections of the eyes can also be caused by viruses or fungi as well. Shingles, for example, is a viral condition that occurs when the herpes zoster virus, which initially causes chickenpox but never completely leaves the body, becomes reactivated in adulthood. The sores that result may cause an ocular infection which can damage the optic nerve and permanently impair vision. By the same token, histoplasmosis, a fungal infection of the lungs common in the southeastern United States, can (in rare cases) migrate to the retina and damage the macula, the vital central portion of the retina where the vision cells are most concentrated. Over time, this can cause symptoms and retinal decay very similar to macular degeneration, and eventually destroy the central part of the field of vision. Although only a tiny minority of people with histoplasmosis go on to suffer visual impairment, the fungus is so common that this syndrome represents a significant infectious cause of legal blindness in Americans between the ages of 20 to 40 years.
At Georgia Eye, we are constantly exploring treatments for the many conditions that can negatively affect eyesight and strive to provide our patients with the safest, most effective options available. If you have any questions or concerns about your vision, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to schedule an eye exam with Dr. Segal or Dr. Lay today. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear and healthy.