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Red light for common pink eye treatment

New US research suggests that acute conjunctivitis patients are receiving inappropriate antibiotic treatment

An eye drop being administered

An American study has found that many acute conjunctivitis patients are unnecessarily prescribed antibiotics. 

The research, published in Ophthalmology, reported on the treatment given to 300,000 patients diagnosed with acute conjunctivitis in the US over a 14-year period.

The study found that 58% of patients received a prescription for antibiotic eye drops, even though antibiotics are rarely necessary to treat this type of eye infection.

Lead author, Nakul Shekhawat, highlighted that the study “opens the lid” on overprescribing of antibiotics for the common eye infection. 

“It shows that current treatment decisions for pink eye are not based on evidence,” he explained. 

Most cases of acute conjunctivitis are caused by viral infections or allergies and do not respond to antibiotics. 

The study also found that among those acute conjunctivitis patients prescribed antibiotics, 20% filled a prescription for an antibiotic-steroid combination. This treatment is inappropriate for many pink eye cases because it may prolong certain types of viral infection or make the infection worse. 

The study authors conclude: “These findings highlight the need to provide better education for patients, clinicians, and health policy makers about acute conjunctivitis and to search for ways to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics for this condition.”

Image credit: National Eye Institute