Findings in a recent study published in an eyecare journal confirm the nationwide trend of overprescribing antibiotics for common infections, especially antibiotic eyedrops for pink eye. The cause is most likely due to eyedrop prescriptions being written by a primary care physician, pediatrician, or urgent-care provider. Eye care providers are most appropriate to diagnose pink eye as allergic, viral or bacterial and to treat accordingly.
Acute conjunctivitis or pink eye affects 6 million Americans annually and tends to clear in a week with treatments of cold compresses and possibly drops such as artificial tears. Accurate diagnosis is made from examination of the eye and assessment of the type of discharge – watery indicates allergic or viral while thick indicates a bacterial infection. Treatment follows the diagnosis and can include just the cold compresses and artificial tears indicated earlier as well as anti-histamine and / or anti-inflammatory eyedrops for allergic conjunctivitis to anti-inflammatory drops for viral conjunctivitis to antibiotic eyedrops for bacterial conjunctivitis. Recommendations often include lots of hand washing with soap and not sharing towels with others to reduce the risk of spread.
Sometimes patients ask for antibiotic eyedrops in hopes of a quicker recovery and some schools don’t allow children into classrooms without proof of treatment. While most patients won’t suffer negative effects from unnecessary antibiotics, the drops can cause problems. Some irritate the cornea leading to discomfort, decreased vision and delayed healing time; they can cause allergic reactions; they can kill off the good bacteria that is a normal part of the eye; they can contribute to antibiotic resistance; and they can be expensive – nearly $200 per bottle.
Seek an optometrist – the primary eyecare provider – for your concerns about pink eye to lessen the widespread over-prescribing rates of antibiotic eyedrops.