What is Endophthalmitis?

C. Ausbrooks

Endophthalmitis is the term used to describe swelling and inflammation in the eye caused by infection. The condition is a severe complication of eye surgery, but can also be caused by penetrating trauma, foreign bodies in the eye, a virus or a fungus. If the infection is caused by bacteria, it typically occurs within four to five days of the injury or surgery. If caused by a virus or fungus, endophthalmitis may develop into a chronic condition.

Pain, redness and swelling of the eyelids are all symptoms of endophthalmitis.
Pain, redness and swelling of the eyelids are all symptoms of endophthalmitis.

An individual with a superficial wound to the eye such as a corneal abrasion is not usually at risk for endophthalmitis. Viruses such as herpes and candida yeast infections can cause the condition, however, by entering the eye through the bloodstream. This is rare, except in patients with suppressed immune systems or diabetes.

Endophthalmitis can be a complication from eye surgery.
Endophthalmitis can be a complication from eye surgery.

Symptoms of endophthalmitis include pain, redness and swelling of the eyelids. Decreased vision and visual impairment are also common. In severe cases, the condition may be accompanied by a collection of white fluid in front of the iris, known as a hypopyon.

Any person who develops sudden pain or extreme redness around the eye following surgery or injury should be tested for endophthalmitis. A physician can diagnose the condition by examining the eye with a microscope. Clouding of the cornea and an excessive amount of white blood cells in the front eye chamber are indicators that the condition is present, and treatment should begin immediately.

Endophthalmitis treatment is performed by an eye doctor who specializes in surgical and medical eye problems, also known as an ophthalmologist. The most common treatment consists of injecting powerful antibiotics directly into the eye to fight the infection. In urgent cases, part or all of the eye may need to be surgically removed. Surgery is typically only necessary if a portion of the eye is severely damaged and the condition cannot be treated with antibiotics alone.

If left untreated, the infection can result in permanent damage to the eye, permanent vision impairment or even permanent blindness in the affected eye. Although the condition cannot always be prevented, an individual may decrease the risk of developing an infection by careful treatment and monitoring of the eye in the days following eye surgery or trauma. If endophthalmitis is caused by bacteria or fungi, it may be contagious. Patients with fungal or bacterial endophthalmitis should avoid contact with others and practice good hygiene to prevent spreading the infection.

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