Is it necessary to use antibiotic ointment to treat conjunctivitis? From time to time we get an outbreak of sticky, red eyes in our family. Sometimes we get chloramphenicol antibiotic ointment on prescription, and this seems to clear it up. But last week, on holiday, the conjunctivitis cleared up after cotton wool and boiled water.

Dr Fred Kavalier answers your health question:

Conjunctivitis is usually caused by a viral infection of the conjunctiva, the thin, clear, moist membrane that coats the inner surfaces of the eyelids and the outer surface of the eye. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, and, therefore, it is usually not necessary to treat conjunctivitis with antibiotic eye-drops or ointment. Simply keeping the eye clear by mopping it out with cotton wool and clean water is all that is necessary. If the eyelids become exceptionally red and puffy, or it the eye itself becomes very red, it may mean that a bacterial infection has developed on top of the viral infection. Even in this case, simple mopping out may be enough. But if the redness is worsening and spreading, antibiotic ointment will probably solve the problem. It is important to remember that not all red eyes are caused by conjunctivitis. If your vision is affected, or if the eye is painful, you should see a doctor quickly.

Please mail your questions for Dr Fred to He regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions.