“Are eye infections contagious?” is one of the most often asked questions eye doctors here in their offices. The concern is certainly understandable and the question needs a good answer. But unfortunately, when it comes to eye infections, the answer is “it depends”. This article should clear up some of the confusion about eye infections and the question about whether they are contagious or not.
What type of Eye Infection is it?
The source of the eye infection is the challenge facing your eye doctor. There are various sources of eye infections and some problems may seem like an eye infection, but there may be another reason for the presenting problem like trauma or an underlying systemic condition. But most eye infections fall into the following categories:
- Bacterial eye infections – bacterial eye infections can come from may different types of bacteria, but most eye infections are caused by the normal bacteria that live around the eyes for all of us. But when you body is run down from illness, travel, or fatigue, the normal bacterial population gets a chance to grow and you end up with a bacterial eye infection, complete with a thick discharge. For the most part, these infections are not contagious. Bacterial eye infections usually only affect one eye.
- Viral eye infections – eye infections from viruses usually affect both eyes and present with more tearing than bacterial, and little or no mucus discharge. The eyes are usually light sensitive and the vision may be slightly decreased. Viral eye infections are usually contagious and may be passed from one person to another before the infection symptoms have become present.
- Fungal eye infections – eye infections from a fungus is more rare, although one of the more difficult eye infections to treat. In most every case, there is a recent history of scratching the eye with vegetative matter and more likely to occur in warm, damp climates. These infections are not contagious and only affect the eye that suffered the trauma.
So, the general rule of thumb about eye infections, is if it’s in just one eye (usually bacterial), the infection is not contagious. If the eye infection is in both eyes (usually viral), then the condition is probably contagious. So, how do I prevent spreading or catching an eye infection? Follow these steps:
- Ask your eye doctor what type of eye infection you have and whether it’s contagious.
- If so, keep your hands clean at all times.
- Do not share towels, wash clothes, pillows.
- Do not share the telephone.
- Discard mascara and never share eye makeup.
- Follow your doctor’s treatment plan faithfully.