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Chloramphenicol eye ointment

Dr Tom Bracewell
Reviewed by Dr Tom BracewellReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Chloramphenicol eye ointment is used to treat minor bacterial eye infections (such as bacterial conjunctivitis). It contains the active ingredient chloramphenicol, a broad-spectrum antibiotic that works against a wide variety of bacteria. Chloramphenicol eye ointment can be used in adults and children over the age of 2 years. It is available for purchase from your pharmacy after discussing your symptoms with a pharmacist. In some situations, your pharmacist may suggest an alternative eye treatment that could be more appropriate than chloramphenicol. Viral and fungal eye infections can cause very similar symptoms but need different treatments.

Chloramphenicol eye ointment can be used on its own or together with chloramphenicol eye drops. It is used in combination with chloramphenicol eye drops because, due to the frequency with which the eye drops need to be applied, using them at night is not advised. Therefore, chloramphenicol eye ointment can be used at night instead as it stays on the eye longer, providing a longer duration of action.

Doctor’s advice

Who is it for?

Chloramphenicol eye ointment is available over the counter for adults and children over the age of 2 years for the treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis. It is important to discuss your symptoms with your pharmacist to distinguish them from other eye conditions that may need a different treatment.

How do I use it?

If you are using chloramphenicol eye ointment on its own, you should apply the ointment 3 to 4 times a day. If you are also using chloramphenicol eye drops, just apply the ointment once a day at night instead of applying the eye drops.

To apply the ointment, pull your lower eyelid downwards and look upwards. Then squeeze about 1cm of ointment into the space between your lower eyelid and your eye and close your eye afterward for a few moments. Take care to ensure the nozzle of the tube does not touch your eye, fingers, or the skin around your eyes, and make sure you wash your hands before using the medication. You should continue using the medication for 2 days after the eye appears normal, up to a maximum treatment duration of 5 days. If your symptoms show no improvement within 48hrs or get any worse, you should see your doctor quickly as you may need alternative treatment. Unlike chloramphenicol eye drops, chloramphenicol eye ointment does not need to be stored in the fridge.

Are there any side effects?

As with all medications, some people may experience side effects. If you develop any bothersome side effects, stop using the medication and speak with your doctor or pharmacist. Potential side effects from chloramphenicol eye ointment include blurred vision or stinging just after applying the ointment, which should quickly subside.

Who should not use the medication?

As always, do not use the medication if you are allergic to any of the ingredients in it. Chloramphenicol eye ointment should not be used in children under 2 years of age or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding unless under supervision by a doctor. Chloramphenicol eye ointment is not suitable for you if you have bone marrow depression or a family history of blood problems (such as low blood cell counts).

If you wear contact lenses and develop eye symptoms, you should speak to your doctor urgently as serious eye infections are more common. You should also speak to your doctor before using chloramphenicol eye ointment if you have blurred or cloudy vision, eye pain, any eye conditions such as glaucoma, or your eye(s) are more sensitive to light.

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Dr Tom Bracewell
Reviewed by Dr Tom Bracewell
Reviewed on 13.10.2023
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