Here’s an interesting little bit of medical jargon trivia, infectious diseases are caused by germs, both bacteria and viruses. Some, but not all, infectious diseases can be spread from one person to another. Infectious diseases that do spread from person to person are called contagious diseases. This, of course, is both true for your eyes and the rest of your body.
Infectious diseases like Lyme disease or malaria, for instance, cannot be spread from person-to-person, while diseases like the flu, colds, strep throat, or COVID-19 are highly contagious.
We’re all very aware these days of how contagious diseases can spread. The three primary ways diseases spread from person-to-person are: physical contact with an infected person; contact with a contaminated surface; and airborne inhalation. To avoid contracting communicable diseases like the coronavirus we practice social distancing, hand washing, and wearing face masks.
So, the question is, are eye diseases any different?
We’ve talked quite a bit about some of the most common eye diseases and disorders over the last few years including myopia, dry eye, cataracts, astigmatism, and glaucoma. You’ll be happy to know that none of these are contagious! These eye disorders and diseases are not commonly the result of bacterial or viral infections, infections that may be contagious in their own right, though some infections if left untreated could cause further damage and disease to your eyes over time.
There are a handful of relatively common eye infections that almost all cause pain or discomfort, itchy or burning eyes, swelling, seeping, redness, crusty lashes, and lids, tenderness, and irritation, but not all of these infections are contagious.
By far the two most common eye infections are Conjunctivitis or Pinkeye, and Stye.
Pinkeye is an infection of your conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that covers the front of your eye and lines the inside of your eyelids. Pinkeye can be caused by bacteria or viruses. Adults with pinkeye generally contracted it through a virus, while in children it is most likely bacterial. As we all know, pinkeye is painful and highly contagious.
Stye is a painful reddish lump under your eyelid or at the base of your eyelashes. People generally get a stye when the oil glands in their eyelid or eyelashes get infected with bacteria. While similarly caused by bacteria, unlike pinkeye, a stye is not contagious.
Other eye infections include Keratitis, an inflammation of your cornea that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites in water; Uveitis, an inflammation of the middle layer of your eye, called the uvea; and Fungal Eye Infections, most rare but often serious.
Unlike the contagious diseases we’re all too familiar with like flu, colds, and coronavirus, people don’t spread eye diseases through the air. That said, some eye infections, specifically conjunctivitis, are highly contagious through contact and touch.
It is really hard for anyone, but especially a child, not to touch a painful, teary, infected eye. Touching an infected eye, and then touching other things or other people, spreads pinkeye rapidly. Much like we’re all become accustomed to with Covid, washing our hands, and generally practicing good hygiene is the number one way to avoid spreading eye infections.
As amusing as it may be to imagine, it’s generally not advisable to wear an eye patch to stop the spread of eye infections. Instead, check out this comprehensive CDC list of ways to avoid spreading pinkeye.
If you experience any eye discomfort at all or suspect you may have an eye infection, make an appointment with your eye doctor immediately! There are many treatments for bacterial eye infections; your doctor will be able to get you started on recovery right away. Viral infections take a little longer to run their course, but your eye doctor will be able to diagnose and lead you in the right direction.