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The eye is a very delicate and sensitive organ and if its structure or integrity is affected, for instance, if the front of the eye is scratched, infection can take hold. In addition, the eye and its surrounding tissues are prone to a wide range of non-infectious inflammatory disorders. If either the outside or inside of the eye becomes infected or inflamed, immediate treatment is necessary to avoid irreparable damage which can, in severe cases, permanently affect sight.
The outside of the eye, like much of the body, is susceptible to infection by common micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi and acanthamoeba (an amoeboid organism), which can destroy the cornea (the front surface of the eye) in severe cases and result in visual impairment. Infectious micro-organisms can also invade and damage the internal structures of the eye, which often results in profound visual loss.
The wearing of contact lenses may increase the risk of infection through poor hygiene or the use of inappropriate cleaning fluids that fail to destroy the micro-organisms growing on the lens itself or in its case. Research at the Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital highlighted serious problems with some lens cleaning solutions and this has resulted in a change in the formulation of these products to the benefit of contact lens wearers.
Bacterial and fungal infections within the eye are less common but can have a devastating and irreversible effect on vision if prompt treatment is not given. Infection is one of the most feared complications after sight restoring intraocular surgery, such as cataract extraction, because the onset and damage can occur so rapidly.
One of the key problems with intraocular infection is that it is difficult to identify the organism responsible. We start generalized treatment immediately to try to prevent as much damage as possible. Once the organism is identified, additional treatment may be initiated or altered.