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Sharp Health News

Do you need antibiotics for pink eye?

Dec. 23, 2016

Do you need antibiotics for pink eye?

If you or your child has gotten pink eye, you may be all too familiar with the signs: itchy, teary eyes with swollen, crusty eyelids.

What you may not realize is that antibiotics for pink eye, which are often prescribed as eye drops or ointments, may not help. According to Dr. Matthew Messoline, a board-certified family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, antibiotics are usually not necessary for pink eye and can do more harm than good.

“Pink eye is usually caused by a virus, which typically goes away on its own in a week and does not respond to antibiotics,” says Dr. Messoline. “Pink eye can also be caused by a bacterial infection, which does respond to antibiotic treatment. That being said, mild cases can usually resolve without medication.”

A third type of pink eye is caused by an allergic reaction to things such as pollen, dust, contact lenses or cosmetics, and should not be treated with antibiotics, adds Dr. Messoline. “Avoiding allergens is the best way to improve symptoms causing this type of pink eye,” he says.

Dr. Messoline stresses that you should avoid unnecessary antibiotic treatment of pink eye because of possible side effects. “Antibiotics can cause itching, stinging, burning, redness and increased discharge,” he says. “In some people, the medications can also cause an allergic reaction.”

He also cautions that overtreatment using antibiotics can cause antibiotic resistance in bacteria, making certain illnesses harder to treat. “Antibiotic treatment may be appropriate if your symptoms are severe, you have a weakened immune system, or your pink eye does not get better within a week,” he adds.

Viral and bacterial pink eye is very contagious. If you or your child contracts these types of pink eye, Dr. Messoline offers the following advice to help prevent its spread:

  • Wash your hands often or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Avoid touching your eyes
  • Don’t use contact lenses
  • Dispose of tissues after each use and don’t reuse washcloths
  • Wash pillowcases, sheets and towels in hot water and detergent
  • Clean or replace eyewear and makeup that could be infected

“You should call your doctor if your pink eye is accompanied with eye pain, vision problems or sensitivity to light,” says. Dr. Messoline. “You should also let your doctor know if you had glaucoma surgery in the past; if your viral pink eye gets worse after a week; or if your bacterial pink eye is not improving with antibiotics after three or four days.”

At Sharp Rees-Stealy, we want to empower you to make well-informed choices about your treatment options. That’s why we’ve made it our priority to support our doctors in helping you make smart and effective decisions by participating in Choosing Wisely®.

Choosing Wisely, an initiative of the ABIM Foundation, educates patients and doctors on selecting the most effective treatment available and avoiding unproductive, costly procedures. Sharp Rees-Stealy is the only medical group in Southern California to participate in this national campaign.

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