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Dr. Dan B.
Dr. Dan B., Board Certified Ophthalmologist
Category: Eye
Satisfied Customers: 3343
Experience:  Eye surgeon experienced in cataracts, glaucoma, retina & neuro-ophthalmology
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My wife was diagnosed with pink eye 2 days ago, and was given

Customer Question

My wife was diagnosed with pink eye 2 days ago, and was given a sulpha based eye antibiotic. Now, I got it (on both my eyes)--red swollen eyes, opaque white discharge, crusty (can hardly open eyes in the morning), and blurred vision (likely due to the pus formation on the eye).

The thing is I don't want to go back to the doctor since I'm pretty positive what I have is pink eye. I'd like to know if I can get a non-sulpha based eye antibiotic prescription, since I am allergic to sulpha. My father inlaw is a doctor and he can send me the prescription.

Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Eye
Expert:  Dr. Dan B. replied 6 years ago.

Hello and thanks for your question. If the diagnosis is correct, that this is a viral conjunctivitis (what many people commonly refer to a pink-eye), and it sounds as though it is possible, if not likely on the basis of the history, then an antibiotic by its very nature will not affect or cure this. The reason for this is because antibiotics do not show any activity against viruses, only bacteria.


Viral conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold and so they most frequently follow having had a cold or a viral gastrointestinal illness, or they follow someone who has had fairly close contact with the same problem, as you have had with your wife. Because this does not respond to antibiotics, and because there is no specific anti-viral medicine that works against these viruses, unfortunately the virus just has to run its course. Usually, the virus runs its course through both eyes in about 1.5-2 weeks, without causing any permanent or long-lasting problems in the eyes, although occasionally the inflammation can be intense enough that it spills over from the conjunctiva to the cornea and causes an inflammation in the cornea that does not resolve on its own, but requires steroid drops to treat. This is uncommon, but possible.


It is a very common mis belief on the part of many persons, including primary care doctors and emergency room doctors, that taking antibiotic drops or pills for 24 hours will allow you to reach a non-contagious period in this illness and would allow you or children to go back to work or school without risking spread of the illness. As an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, I can say with absolute certainty that this belief / dogma is false. Unfortunately, the virus is very contagious and if you were to touch your eye and then touch a table, let's say, and someone came along 12 days later and touched the same spot on the table and contacted their eye with it, they could also get the same illness. Generally, it is very difficult to abstain from work for 12 days, so the best advice I usually give is to abstain from work (if you work in a very customer-service oriented business, like handling money with customers, work in a grocery store or food-handling position, or work with many children or sick/elderly adults) until the eyes look and feel normal.


Until that time, cool compresses (cool works better to help the inflammation subside) and artificial tears 4-5x/day can help the eyes feel better.


It is also important to know the distinction between this viral conjunctivitis and a bacterial conjunctivitis. A viral conjunctivitis, as I said before, usually follows exposure to someone else with a similar red-eye illness and/or follows a cold or viral GI illness. It usually starts in one eye and then moves to the other eye within a few days, causes mattering/stickiness to the eyelashes in the morning and can cause burning, itching, light sensitivity and mild blurry vision during its course; but it usually does not produce copious amounts of thick, greenish discharge and the eye usually is not severely red or painful. If it is or if there is a lot of continual thick, greenish discharge and it is confined to one eye (for the most part), then this is more likely to be bacterial and should not only be treated with antibiotic drops, but should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist first to make sure it is not a severe, vision-threatening episode.


I know that's a lot of info, but the distinction between the two (viral and bacterial) is important to understand for the many reasons I discussed.


Does all that make sense and does that help address your concerns?



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Expert:  Dr. Dan B. replied 6 years ago.

Also, something that I did not include in that last response was it is very easy and logical to think that because someone has used an antibiotic drop for a few days and the infection got better that it got better because of the antibiotic.


In these viral conjunctivitis cases, it got better, for the most part, because it usually does get better on its own and would've gotten better even without the antibiotic drop and despite of it, not because of it.

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Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thanks for the detailed answer. I'd like to clarify that my wife went to an ophthalmologist 2 days ago and was prescribed eye antibiotics. That was the reason I assumed that it is a bacterial form, and the reason why I thought the same would help me.

She had it in only one eye. I got it in both my eyes at the same time, and now she has it in the other eye as well. Also, I had a lot of discharge last night, and it was whitish in color. Today, the discharge is minimal. It's not really green in color, but I thought I saw a tinge of green in it once...but for the most part it is white or off white. I must mention I also have some sore throat.

Since the eye doctor prescribed antibiotics, could I assume that it is bacterial?

Expert:  Dr. Dan B. replied 6 years ago.

Okay, that is a good question. I just want to make sure that you saw someone with an M.D. after their name, correct, and not someone with an O.D. after their name. If you did see an M.D. (ophthalmologist), then I would suspect that his/her diagnosis of your wife would've been a bacterial conjunctivitis and not a pink-eye (viral conjunctivitis), as no self-respecting ophthalmologist would diagnose a pink-eye and then turn around and give antibiotics for it. It also fits her story that it was only in one eye.


However, it is quite uncommon to "catch" a bacterial conjunctivitis from someone and then for it to go in both eyes (actually quite rare). So if that is the case, then I would recommend that you see the ophthalmologist to make sure which entity you're dealing with (viral or bacterial) as this may not be a run-of-the-mill infection. Your description of discharge and sore throat also fits in with a virus, so I suspect that you and your wife probably have different infections.


Does that make sense? Do you have any other questions/concerns I haven't addressed?

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thanks for the answer doctor...but one more question. Since I got it literally right after she got it, I can't help but to think that it is an obvious case of spreading of the infection. And it's been almost 10 years since I last had any problem with my eye, So the timing of it just seemed to make sense that I got it from her. IN that case, it would be the same virus or bacteria that is affecting both of us, right? Is my theory reasonable?
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Oh, I forgot to mention...yes, we did visit an MD.
Expert:  Dr. Dan B. replied 6 years ago.

Okay good to know that she saw an M.D. And yes, your theory is very reasonable. So in that respect, would you be totally off-base in treating with the same antibiotic? No. The only things that make me hesitate from recommending that are the inconsistencies in the histories (hers sounds bacterial, yours sounds viral) and also the possibility that this is an altogether different microbial pathogen that was coincidentally picked up by you right after hers. If there's one thing that I've learned from practicing medicine is that it is all too easy to make assumptions in medicine and sometimes those assumptions (especially in the face of conflicting factors such as in this case) can get you into trouble.


But, yes, your theory does sound reasonable. Thanks for all the great details. It makes my ability to counsel you correctly so much more easy.


Does that make sense and do you have any other concerns/questions?


Expert:  Dr. Dan B. replied 6 years ago.

I mis-spoke in my last comment. I meant to say:


"So in that respect, would you be totally off-base in also treating yours as if it were bacterial in nature? No."


Of course you should not be using the same antibiotic given your allergy.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Yes, thanks for the info doctor. I think I'll try to see the ophthalmologist today if I can. Got your message about the allergy, thanks for pointing it out.
Expert:  Dr. Dan B. replied 6 years ago.
Great. Good luck to you guys and I'll be available in the future should you need any help.