Chloramphenicol for eye infections

  • Do not use chloramphenicol eye preparations for more than five days without seeing a doctor for advice.
  • If your vision becomes blurred after using the drops, do not drive until you can see clearly.
  • Do not wear contact lenses until your symptoms have completely gone.
Type of medicine Antibacterial eye preparation
Used for Eye infections
Also called Brochlor®
Chloromycetin®
Golden Eye Antibiotic®
Minims® Chloramphenicol
Optrex® Infected Eyes
Available as Eye drops, single use eye drops, and eye ointment

Chloramphenicol eye drops and ointment are used to treat bacterial eye infections. Eye infections are a common cause of conjunctivitis. In conjunctivitis, your eye becomes inflamed, feels gritty, and may water more than usual. The white of your eye may look red, and your eyelids may become swollen and stuck together with a discharge when you wake up in the morning. Only one eye may be infected to begin with, but it often spreads to both eyes.

Most cases of infective conjunctivitis clear within a week or so without treatment. For more severe infections, or for infections which do not clear on their own, an antibiotic eye drop or ointment such as chloramphenicol is used.

Chloramphenicol works by helping to kill the bacteria which are causing the infection. It is available on prescription, or you can buy it at pharmacies without a prescription if it is for conjunctivitis in an adult or a child over the age of 2 years. Do not use chloramphenicol eye drops or ointment for a child under 2 years old, unless it has been prescribed by a doctor.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start using chloramphenicol it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:

  • If you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • If you wear soft contact lenses.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to chloramphenicol or to any other eye drops.
  • If anyone in your family has ever had a severe blood disorder.
  • If you are taking or using any other medicines, including those available to buy without a prescription, herbal and complementary medicines.

Before you start this treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from the pack. The leaflet will give you more information about the preparation you have been given, and a full list of possible side-effects from using it. If your eyes have an obvious discharge or 'crust', it can help if you bathe them with cool clean water before using chloramphenicol.

If you are using chloramphenicol eye drops:

  • Wash your hands well before you use the drops.
  • Remove the cap (or the tip of the unit if you are using a single-use dose unit).
  • Tilt your head back a little and pull the lower lid of your eye out to form a pocket.
  • Hold the bottle (or single-use dose unit) upside down near to your eye. Try not to touch your eye as you do this.
  • Apply enough pressure to release one drop into your eye.
  • Close your eye for a minute or two, and press gently on the side of your nose where the corner of your eye meets your nose. This helps to stop the drop from draining away and keeps it in your eye.
  • Repeat the process in your other eye if both eyes are affected.
  • Replace the cap (or if you are using the single-use dose unit, throw it away).

If you are using chloramphenicol eye ointment:

  • Wash your hands well before you use the eye ointment.
  • Remove the cap from the tube.
  • Tilt your head back a little and pull the lower lid of your eye out to form a pocket.
  • Hold the tube upside down near to your eye.
  • Apply enough pressure to the tube to release a thin line of ointment along the inside of the lower eyelid. Try not to touch your eye as you do this.
  • Close your eye for a moment or two, and then blink a few times to spread the ointment around the inside of your eye.
  • Repeat the process in your other eye if both eyes are affected.
  • When you have finished, remember to replace the cap on the tube to prevent the ointment from becoming contaminated.
  • At first, the drops should be used every two to four hours unless you have been told otherwise. (Just use the drops while you are awake - you do not need to wake yourself up during the night to put them in.) As the infection improves, you can reduce this frequency down to four times a day. If you have been given eye ointment to use as well as eye drops, apply the ointment at night only. If you have been given eye ointment without the eye drops, use the ointment three or four times each day.
  • Try not to miss any doses. If you forget to put the drops in or to use the ointment on time, do it as soon as you remember.
  • When you first put the eye drops or eye ointment into your eye, it may cause blurred vision. This should quickly clear. Make sure you can see clearly before you drive or use machines or tools.
  • You should not use chloramphenicol eye preparations for more than five days unless a doctor has told you otherwise. If your infection is no better after this time, make an appointment to see your doctor for advice. If your symptoms become worse while you are using chloramphenicol, you should arrange to see your doctor for advice as soon as possible. In particular, see your doctor if your eye becomes painful, if light starts to hurt your eyes, or if your sight is affected.
  • Take care to avoid spreading the infection from one eye to the other, and to other members of your family. Washing your hands regularly (particularly after touching your eyes), and not sharing towels or pillows will help to prevent the infection from spreading.
  • Eye infections can cause your eyes to become more sensitive to sunlight than usual. Wearing sunglasses may help to prevent this.
  • Do not wear contact lenses until your symptoms have completely gone. Wait for 24 hours after the last dose of eye drops or ointment before using your lenses again.
  • If you are using any other eye drops or eye ointments, leave at least 5 minutes between applying each preparation.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. These usually improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side-effects continue or become troublesome.

Possible side-effects What can I do if I experience this?
Mild stinging This should pass after a minute or so

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to chloramphenicol, discuss them with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Chloramphenicol eye drops (including single-dose units) must be kept in a fridge (2°C to 8°C).
  • Chloramphenicol eye ointment should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.
  • Throw away the bottle or tube of chloramphenicol after you have finished the five-day course of treatment, even if there is some left. Never keep opened bottles or tubes to use later.
  • Single-dose units should be used immediately the unit is opened. Do not store or re-use opened units for subsequent doses. This is because the units do not contain any preservative.
  • If you buy any medicines check with a pharmacist that they are safe to use with your other medicines.
  • Never use more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that someone has swallowed any of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.
  • If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are using.
  • This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.
  • Never keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.
  • If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Helen Huins
Document ID:
3455 (v24)
Last Checked:
18/04/2012
Next Review:
18/04/2015
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