Understanding Red Eye: Treating the Infection

Eye infections are most commonly caused by viruses or bacteria. Sometimes they are caused by an infection in another part of your body. Many eye infections can be spread from one person to another.


Viral infections can occur in one eye or both. They can affect your eyes when you have a cold, flu, or other virus. Usually there is a teary, watery discharge. Your eyes may burn or itch and your eyelids may be puffy and sore.

Treating Viral Infections. Most viral infections go away on their own in 1-3 weeks. Artificial tears and warm cloths can relieve the symptoms. Your doctor may also prescribe eyedrops. To keep the infection from spreading, don’t touch your eyes and don’t share bedding or towels.


Bacterial infections often occur in one eye. A thick, smelly discharge is common. Bacterial infections can be chronic, and some can cause serious damage to your eye. Often they are caused by bacteria in other parts of the eye or body. See your doctor as soon as you notice any symptoms.

Treating Bacterial Infections. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotic eyedrops or ointment to kill the bacteria. Use warm compresses to keep the eyelids clean. To keep the bacteria from spreading, use a separate towel or tissue for each eye. Don’t touch or rub your eyes and don`t share bedding or towels.

Eye infections can be very contagious. They spread quickly through daycare centers and classrooms. You may be asked to keep your child home as long as he or she has any discharge. To help prevent infection and the spread of infection, wash your hands and your child’s hands often.