Bacterial infections can be spread from hands to eyes, and around one million doctor visits occur annually due to eye infections. Developing an eye infection can worsen eyesight, and especially in people with poor vision due to keratoconus. Although swimming in a lake or swimming pool with a high bacteria count is one way an eye infection can be acquired, rubbing eyes with unwashed hands is the primary way bacteria enter the eyes.
If you have keratoconus (or have a child with keratoconus), adherence to the hand hygiene recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is imperative. Below are some common eye infections and treatments, as well as a description of the CDC’s standard hand hygiene recommendations.
Conjunctivitis – Symptoms and Treatment
The American Optometric Association (AOA) describes conjunctivitis as an inflammation of the conjunctiva – which is the thin, transparent layer of tissue covering the white part of the eye (as well as the inner surface of the eyelid). While conjunctivitis can have a noninfectious cause (such as improper use of contact lenses), it is most frequently the result of a bacterial or viral infection.
Conjunctivitis (often called “pink eye”) does not normally affect vision, but people with this ailment are unable to wear their contact lenses until the inflammation is resolved. Since many keratoconus-afflicted people wear contact lenses, this can create a time period of worsened eyesight. Symptoms include a gritty feeling in the affected eye, itching sensation in the eye, and/or discharge from the eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis is normally treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. However, antibiotics are not used to treat viral conjunctivitis (which usually resolves by itself within two weeks).
What is Infectious Keratitis?
The Mayo Clinic describes the following as symptoms of this corneal infection (that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and/or parasites):
- Eye pain;
- Excessive tearing or discharge from the eye;
- Eye redness;
- Sensation of foreign body in the eye;
- Difficulty opening eyelid because of irritation or pain
Contaminated water (e.g. bacteria-laden rivers, swimming pools, and hot tubs) are one way that keratitis can be acquired. Poorly-cleaned contact lenses are also linked to the development of keratitis – and especially with acanthamoeba (a microscopic parasite). The American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that Herpes Simplex is a common cause of viral keratitis.
Notably, keratitis can worsen eye pain in keratoconus-afflicted people who experience eye pain. In turn, this can complicate the treatment of keratoconus. Topical antibiotics are the primary treatment of bacterial keratitis (according to an article in Ophthalmology in 2017).
A medical article in 2018 in Australian Prescriber reported that the most common bacteria worldwide linked to keratitis are the following:
- Staph. aureus;
- coagulase-negative staphylococci;
- S. pneumoniae;
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
What is a Stye?
A stye is an infection of an oil gland in the eyelid (per the National Eye Institute). Typically caused by bacteria, a stye often resolves within a week without medication treatment. According to Medical News Today, three typical causes are:
- Using expired cosmetics;
- Failure to disinfect contact lenses before inserting them;
- Changing contact lenses without proper handwashing prior to lens removal
Understanding Proper Handwashing
The CDC’s described five steps for proper handwashing are wet, lather, scrub (for at least 20 seconds), rinse, and dry. Performing these steps should occur before touching the face and eyes. This is particularly recommended for keratoconus-afflicted people in order to prevent an eye infection that can worsen the keratoconus symptoms. If you think that you (or your child) may have keratoconus, visit one of the Precision Keratoconus Center locations to obtain more information about your treatment options.