Part 3 of Our 5-Part Series: Antibiotics for Pink Eye

Making healthy lifestyle choices can help you protect your vision by reducing your risk for eye diseases, eye infections and eye injuries. Partnering with your ophthalmologist — an eye physician and surgeon — is another key to good eye health, especially for young children and older people. From vision screenings to treatment for common conditions like pink eye or more serious eye diseases, your ophthalmologist's care can make the difference between enjoying good vision and losing your eyesight.  

Sometimes, though, it is difficult to know how much eye care is enough, and which eye treatments are best for you. To help make sure you and your ophthalmologist choose wisely when you consider your treatment options, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has joined more than 30 other medical societies in the Choosing Wisely® campaign to encourage conversations between doctors and patients to discuss medical options.

Ophthalmologists have identified five specific tests and treatments that could benefit from doctor-patient conversations. They include:

This is the third in a series of articles that will discuss each item in detail.

Antibiotics for Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

There are three major types of conjunctivitis, but only one of them — bacterial conjunctivitis — can be successfully treated with antibiotics:

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis is a highly contagious form of pink eye caused by bacterial infections; this type of conjunctivitis usually causes a red eye with a lot of pus. Treatment with antibiotics, prescribed by your doctor, often leads to rapid recovery from this type of pink eye.
  • Viral conjunctivitis is the most common cause of pink eye and is caused by the same virus that causes the common cold; it is also very contagious. Antibiotics will do no good in combating this form of pink eye, since this type of medicine only works against bacteria, not viruses.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by the body's reaction to an allergen or irritant; it is not contagious. Antibiotics will not be effective against this form of pink eye, since it's not caused by bacteria.

If you think you or your child has pink eye, it's important to visit an ophthalmologist to get the correct diagnosis and treatment. Treating the viral or allergic forms of pink eye can be as simple as applying cool pads to the eye, or using soothing eye drops designed to work with these forms of pink eye.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and EyeSmart encourage you to talk with your doctor to learn about the type of pink eye you or your child has and the best treatment options to help you recover as quickly as possible. Your individual care plan will depend on your health history, the symptoms you describe to your ophthalmologist and the results of the eye exam and tests your doctor provides.

Ultimately, the best treatment for you will be up to you and your doctor. Choosing Wisely is all about making patient care even better and avoiding too much care that could possibly do harm. Having conversations with your doctor that help avoid unnecessary tests, medicines and procedures is one way to help keep you safe as a patient, and safeguard your pocketbook, too.

More information on the Choosing Wisely campaign is available at Choosing Wisely.

Return next week to learn why patients and their ophthalmologists should question and discuss the use of antibiotics for eye injections.

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