Eye Socket Infection (Orbital Cellulitis)

What is orbital cellulitis?

The eye socket (orbit), is made up of the bones and tissue that surround the eye. A layer of tissue separates the contents of the eye socket from the eyelids. An infection behind this tissue is called orbital cellulitis.

An eye socket infection can lead to blindness if not treated right away.

What is the cause?

Eye socket infections are usually caused by bacteria. Often, they are the same bacteria that cause sinus infections. Fungus may cause this infection if you have diabetes, or if your immune system is weakened by HIV, chemotherapy, or other conditions.

Eye socket infections can occur:

  • From a sinus infection. The infection can spread through the thin bones that separate the eye socket from the sinuses.
  • From the spread of infection of the skin around the eye and eyelids.
  • From injury or surgery that allows bacteria into the eye socket.
  • Rarely, from an infection that starts somewhere else in the body and spreads through the bloodstream.

What are the symptoms?

Signs and symptoms include:

  • decreased vision
  • double vision
  • pain in and around the eye
  • discharge
  • fever
  • swelling and redness of the eyelids and soft tissue around the eye
  • swelling of the lining of the eyeball
  • problems moving the eye in one or more directions
  • one eye looks like it bulges forward compared to the other eye
  • increased pressure in the eye

You may have sinus symptoms, such as runny nose and congestion before or during the same time as these symptoms.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, do a physical exam, and perform tests. Tests you may have are:

  • an exam using a special microscope (a slit lamp) to look closely at your eye
  • an exam with drops and special lenses to look into the back of your eye (a dilated exam)
  • measurements to look at the position of the affected eye compared with the normal eye
  • an MRI or CT scan to look at the bones and tissues of the eye socket and the sinuses
  • cultures of discharge from the eye
  • blood tests to check for signs of infection) and to check for bacteria in the blood

How is it treated?

Orbital cellulitis is an emergency. It can cause permanent blindness if not treated immediately. When it is diagnosed, you may need to stay in the hospital and receive IV antibiotics. You may need surgery to drain the infection from your eye socket and sinuses.

How long will the effects last?

If the infection is found and treated quickly, you may have no permanent effects. Loss of vision can result from pressure on the optic nerve or from problems with blood flow to the eye. This can be permanent.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow your healthcare provider's instructions for taking care of yourself at home.
  • Avoid light and rest your eyes.
  • If you have had a fever, remember to drink liquids to replace the fluids lost from sweating.

How can I prevent an eye socket infection?

If you develop an infection of the skin around the eye or of the eyelids contact your healthcare provider right away. If you have a history of sinus infections and develop any of the above symptoms, you should also seek immediate medical attention.

Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/wilmer/

Written by Dr. Daniel Garibaldi.
Published by RelayHealth.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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