Eye inflammation – what is behind it?

Eye inflammation - what is behind it?

Inflamed eyes are not uncommon: whether children or adults, almost everyone has red eyes occasionally. But what is behind this symptom? The most common causes are certainly an allergy or conjunctivitis, but there are other causes of eye inflammation in addition to these two diseases. We give you an overview of the different types and explain what you can do against an eye infection. 

What is eye inflammation?

The eye consists of many different components. Any one of them can catch fire. For this reason, one can diagnose many other eye diseases.

But what types of eye infections are there? Depending on where the inflammation is in the eye, different forms of eye inflammation can be distinguished:

  • inflammation of the conjunctiva
  • inflammation of the iris 
  • Inflammation on the eyelid
  • Inflammation of the outer skin ( cornea and dermis)

Conjunctivitis is the most common form of eye inflammation

One of the most common sites for eye inflammation is the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is affected most quickly, especially in the context of a bacterial eye infection. But it can also be triggered by viruses or other germs, as well as by allergies or irritation due to external influences such as dust or chlorine in the swimming pool.

A characteristic feature of conjunctivitis is reddened, watery eyes. In addition, the eyes can be sticky and purulent.

An aggressive form of conjunctivitis is the eye flu caused by adenoviruses, which can also cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches.

inflammation of the iris

Another frequent localization, especially of recurring eye infections, is the iris. Also known as the iris, the iris is part of the eye that determines the colour of our eyes. From an anatomical point of view, the iris belongs to the middle layer of the eye, also known as the uvea in specialist circles. Inflammation of the middle layer of the eye is called uveitis.

Those affected by an inflammation of the iris  (uveitis anterior) usually report dull pain in the area of ​​the eyes and forehead. Here, too, the eyes are red. In the case of chronic eye inflammation, where uveitis is the cause, the typical reddening can also be completely absent.

As with conjunctivitis, uveitis can be caused by bacteria or viruses. There is an increased risk of uveitis if those affected already suffer from a chronic inflammatory disease, such as Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis.


inflammation of the eyelids

The eyelids are another common place for spreading infection along with the conjunctiva and iris. If the eyelids are inflamed, you can often see a nodular swelling and reddening of the eyelid.

The eyelid glands, which produce secretion for the tear film, are located in the eyelids. Skin bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, feel particularly at home here and repeatedly lead to inflammation. Constant rubbing of the eyes – in the worst case, even with dirt on your fingers – makes it easier for the bacteria to get into the relevant areas of the eye.

A painful, reddened lump on the eyelid can be a so-called stye  (hordeolum). A stye is a bacterial infection of the eyelid, specifically the eyelid gland. Barleycorns heal well with the correct antibiotic therapy and rarely become chronic. Another form of eyelid inflammation (blepharitis) is non-contagious chalazion caused by a meibomian gland blockage.

In contrast, allergic eye infections come back repeatedly within a certain period. Due to this characteristic, one also speaks of periodic eye infections since they are triggered by seasonal allergens such as birch pollen. Dust mites are a common trigger of occasional eye inflammation, which can become chronic over time.

Inflammation of the outer skin of the eye

The outer skin of the eye includes the sclera and the cornea. Both can catch fire. However, the causes and symptoms are different.

Bacteria cause corneal inflammation (keratitis) in over 90 per cent of cases. Viruses and fungi play a subordinate role here. Contact lens wearers have an increased risk of keratitis. Contact lenses make it easier for bacteria to infect the cornea. A unique form of corneal inflammation is viral keratitis caused by herpes simplex viruses.

All forms of corneal inflammation are associated with severe pain and should be treated urgently by an ophthalmologist to avoid long-term damage.

In addition to the cornea, the dermis (sclera) is also part of the outer skin of the eye. Inflammation of the dermis  (scleritis) is usually limited to a small part of the dermis and is then referred to as episcleritis. This is generally triggered by stress and is noticeable through the reddening of the eyes. 

What symptoms can occur?

Several symptoms can occur with eye infections. Some of these are non-specific, while others can provide an indication of the disease in question. Some symptoms are listed below:

  • Red eyes are the most common symptom. 
  • Many sufferers describe a foreign body sensation in the eye. 
  • With bacterial inflammation, there is often yellow mucus in the eye.
  • The eyes may be caked with pus. 
  • The eyelids may be swollen. 
  • Photophobia – this is the medical term for sensitivity to light: Affected people find light painful or uncomfortable and for this reason, avoid all possible light sources 
  • Blurred vision can occur with some eye diseases.


Eye inflammation in children

Children can also be affected by eye infections. They also have the typical symptoms, such as clear to purulent eye secretions.

In most cases, viruses – more precisely, adenoviruses – are behind them, which cause conjunctivitis. This is highly contagious as long as secretions flow from the eye. For this reason, it is advisable to pay close attention to hygiene to avoid contagion in the family.

Babies can develop a purulent eye infection shortly after birth, which causes the eyes to become extremely swollen and crusted. In medical jargon, this is referred to as neonatal conjunctivitis, which can be triggered by vaginal bacteria, for example.

Is an eye infection contagious?

There is no general answer as to whether an eye infection is contagious, as there are very different types of eye infections. In general, inflammation caused by bacteria or viruses is infectious. In addition, there are also inflammations caused by allergies or stress, which are therefore not contagious.

Inflammations that bacteria or viruses can trigger include conjunctivitis, uveitis and style. However, all three diseases can also be caused by non-infectious causes such as allergies.

To make an accurate distinction, the advice of an experienced ophthalmologist should be sought. He can best differentiate between the diseases and determine the proper treatment.

Treatment: What helps with eye inflammation?

After the diagnosis by the ophthalmologist, the eye inflammation is typically treated. Depending on the disease, there are differences in treatment. In general, eye infections are treated with eye drops. However, the composition of the drops varies. 

  • In the case of non-infectious eye inflammation, i.e. diseases of the eye without bacteria or viruses, eye rinsing, which is repeated over several days, usually helps. This supports the lacrimal system in cleaning the eyes. Tear substitutes such as Berberil® Dry Eye EDO® can relieve symptoms.
  • Conjunctivitis caused by viruses is treated symptomatically only by rinsing with a saline solution. 
  • In the case of allergic eye inflammation, eye drops with so-called antihistamines can also be given. These work against the inflammatory substances released by the body and can thus alleviate the symptoms of itchy and watery eyes. An example of this would be Allergo-Vision® sine or ZADITEN ophtha® sine.
  •  Antibiotic drops are used for bacterial eye infections.
  • If bacterial uveitis is present, several medications must be used to prevent the uveitis from developing into a chronic eye disease.


Glaucoma as a complication of uveitis

A danger with uveitis is the development of a green star, also called glaucoma. Glaucoma causes an increase in pressure inside the eye. Glaucoma is a disease that must be taken very seriously because the high pressure can damage the optic nerve, which, in the worst case, can lead to blindness.

If recognized in time, glaucoma can be treated effectively. For example, drugs that constrict the pupil and thus lower the intraocular pressure can be given.

How long does the treatment for an eye infection last? 

The duration of therapy for eye inflammation can vary greatly; for example, treatment for uveitis must be continued for several weeks so that chronic eye inflammation does not develop.

In the case of bacterial eye diseases, such as conjunctivitis, antibiotics can initially be dispensed with. This is at the doctor’s discretion. However, antibiotics shorten the duration of the symptoms, which is why they are often given.

In general, antibiotics are prescribed either in the form of eye drops or eye ointments. Regardless of the form, these drugs should be taken for at least five days, and both eyes should always be treated to prevent reinfection.

What can you do yourself against an eye infection? 

Our eyes are compassionate, so you should avoid using home remedies for eye infections as much as possible. For example, chamomile tea can trigger a strong allergic reaction in the eyes.

Eye-protecting drugs, which primarily serve to support our lacrimal apparatus, help better. Also, in the field of homoeopathy, there are various medicines for when the eyes are inflamed.

Of course, many eye infections are caused by stress. However, seeing an ophthalmologist for a better assessment of the eye infection is still advisable before you start treating the inflammation yourself.

Contact lens wearers should refrain from wearing contact lenses in the event of an eye infection until it has subsided. In the case of a contagious form of eye inflammation, replacing the contact lenses or at least disinfecting them thoroughly to prevent reinfection is also advisable.

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