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What are the Most Common Uses of Antibiotic Eye Ointment?

By Jennifer Long
Updated May 17, 2024
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Antibiotic eye ointment is most commonly used to treat or prevent eye infections. The type of eye ointment that is prescribed will depend on the type of infection, and can either be taken orally or applied topically. Bacterial and viral eye infections require a different type of treatment.

Most eye infections are usually classified as conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the eyelid membranes. The type symptoms experienced are different for each type of infection. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis each require a specific time of treatment.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is a common infection. It is also know as pink eye, because a common symptom is pink colored eye lids. The infection is caused by bacteria that gets into the eye. An antibiotic eye ointment that kills bacteria will be prescribed by a doctor. It is applied topically on the eye several times a day for one to two weeks.

Viral conjunctivitis causes the same pink coloring of the eye lids or whites of the eyes, but it is not caused by bacteria. It is highly contagious and is often experienced in conjunction with a viral infection, such as the flu. A topical antibiotic ointment will not work for a viral eye infection. Eye drops or ointments to reduce symptoms may be prescribed.

Antibiotic eye ointment is often applied on newborn babies at birth to prevent neonatal conjunctivitis. It is used as a preventative measure to protect an infant’s delicate eyes. Babies can be exposed to bacteria during birth, but the ointment kills any bacteria that can create infections that cause blindness.

Due to the more common occurrence of bacterial eye infections, more types of antibiotic ointments are available. Doctors usually prescribe a triple antibiotic eye ointment. These ointments contain three antibiotics called bacitracin, neomycin, and polymyxin. A type of hydrocortisone is also included in the eye antibiotic ointment to help treat inflammation.

Special efforts should be made while using an antibiotic eye ointment. Contact lenses should not be word until the infection is gone, and should then be sterilized before use is continued. Hands should be washed with soap and warm water before the ointment is applied. Touching the tip of the tube to any surface, including hands and the infected eye, should be avoided.

Side effects are minimal and generally subside with continued use. One common side effect is a stinging or burning sensation after application. Another common side effects is blurred vision. Both symptoms should stop after one or two minutes. If a rash, trouble breathing, or swelling occurs, it is likely due to an allergic reaction and emergency medical attention is needed.

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Discussion Comments

By turquoise — On Apr 01, 2014

@SteamLouise-- Yes, but antibiotic eye ointment is more moisturizing than eye drops and I think the effects last longer.

My mom was an anesthesiology technician and she told me that during long surgeries, they used to apply a lubricant eye ointment with antibiotic in the patient's eyes before surgery to prevent both dryness and infection. I don't think that eye drops are very moisturizing. So in cases where the eye is irritated in addition to being infected, an antibiotic eye ointment may be a better choice as it will help with the irritation as well.

By SteamLouis — On Mar 31, 2014

@serenesurface-- I did not know that. I've only had to use antibiotic eye ointment once and that was for pink eye or conjunctivitis. I have used antibiotic eye drops before though. I think I prefer the eye drops because the ointment is kind of difficult to apply and it gives me blurry vision for a while. The eye drops get absorbed more easily.

By serenesurface — On Mar 30, 2014

Sometimes antibiotic eye ointment is used for prevention.

I saw the eye doctor the other day because there was something in my eye that I could not get out. The doctor found an eyelash embedded in my eye and removed it. He then prescribed me an antibiotic eye ointment to use for the next five days to prevent infection. I used the ointment and did not have any problems.

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