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Antibiotics: Good Choice for Pinkeye?

Review Shows Antibiotics Speed Healing of Conjunctivitis, but Benefits Are Marginal
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 5, 2006 -- A new research review shows that antibiotics may hasten healing from pinkeye (conjunctivitisconjunctivitis), but not by much.

"Antibiotics speed recovery from conjunctivitis but the benefits are marginal," write Aziz Sheikh, MD, MRCGP, and colleagues in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

The researchers describe acute bacterial conjunctivitis (pinkeye) as an infective condition in which the eyes become red and inflamed. The conjunctiva is the thin, transparent membrane that lines your eyeballs and eyelids.

Conjunctivitis can also be commonly caused by a virus. Antibiotics are used to treat bacteria, not viruses.

Antibiotics vs. Placebo

Sheikh's team reviewed 10 studies of antibiotics and pinkeye caused by bacteria. The studies varied in their size. Some included kids as well as adults.

"People with acute conjunctivitis are often given antibiotics, usually as eye drops or ointment, to speed recovery," write Sheikh and colleagues. However, they add that "the benefits of antibiotics to the sufferer of conjunctivitis have been questioned."

The 10 trials that were reviewed compared antibiotics to treatments containing no medicine (placebo) for bacterial pinkeye. Sheikh's team found that pinkeye disappeared or significantly improved within two to five days in 65% of patients who got the placebo.

"The signs of conjunctivitis went away more quickly in people taking antibiotics, but the benefits are marginal as in most cases the infection is self-limiting," write Sheikh and colleagues.

No serious side effects were seen in either group. However, more data on side effects in people treated with placebo or antibiotics are still needed, the researchers note.

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