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You're Treating Pink Eye the Wrong Way

You're Treating Pink Eye the Wrong Way
From TIME - June 30, 2017

Nearly six in 10 people diagnosed with pink eye in the United States are prescribed antibiotic eye drops, according to a recent study in Ophthalmology, even though the drugs are rarely needed to treat the common infection. In some cases, the authors say, this type of treatment could actually prolong symptoms and make them worse.

The study examined data from more than 340,000 people diagnosed with acute conjunctivitis, known as pink eye, between 2005 and 2014. Of that group, 58% filled a prescription for antibiotic eye drops. Even more concerning to the researchers was that 20% of those prescriptions were for antibiotic-corticosteroid drops, a combination that's not typically recommended for pink eye because it can worsen underlying infections. If taken for long periods, these drops may increase the risk of cataracts and glaucoma.

The findings are consistent with a nationwide trend of overprescribing antibiotics for common bacterial infections (and viral ones, against which they do not even work). But it was still surprising for the study authors to see how widespread an issue it's become for pink eye, a condition that affects 6 million Americans every year.

The proportion of patients who filled prescriptions for antibiotics was indeed much higher than we had expected, said co-author Dr. Joshua Stein, director of the Center for Eye Protection and Innovation at the University of Michigan, in an email. That may be because many patients with pink eye are diagnosed and treated by a primary care physician, pediatrician or urgent-care provider, and never see an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

That was the case with 83% of people in the study. Those who hadnt seen an eye specialist were two to three times more likely to fill prescriptions for antibiotics.

The odds of filling an antibiotic prescription also depended on peoples socioeconomic status. Those who were white, younger, affluent and better educated were more likely to get unnecessary meds. The odds did not, however, depend on factors that could actually increase a persons risk of serious infection: whether patients had diabetes or HIV or wore contact lenses, for example.

MORE: Contact Lenses Fill Your Eyes With Bacteria

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