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Logo of brjgenpracRCGP homepageJ R Coll Gen Pract at PubMed CentralBJGP at RCGPBJGP at RCGP
Br J Gen Pract. 2001 June; 51(467): 473–477.
PMCID: PMC1314030

Topical antibiotics for acute bacterial conjunctivitis: a systematic review.


There has been uncertainty about whether antibiotic therapy confers significant benefit in the treatment of acute bacterial conjunctivitis. This study aimed to assess the efficacy of antibiotic therapy in the management of acute bacterial conjunctivitis. Using standard Cochrane search methods, we identified double-blind randomised controlled trials in which any form of antibiotic treatment (topical, systemic or combination) had been compared with placebo in the management of acute bacterial conjunctivitis. Data extraction and analysis followed a pre-defined protocol. Meta-analysis was performed to obtain summary measures of relative risk. Six published trials were identified, of which three fulfilled the eligibility criteria for inclusion in this review. The trials were heterogeneous in terms of their inclusion and exclusion criteria, the nature of the intervention, and the outcome measures assessed. Meta-analysis indicates that acute bacterial conjunctivitis is frequently a self-limiting condition, as clinical remission occurred by days 2 to 5 in 64% (95% confidence interval (CI) = 57-71) of those treated with placebo. Treatment with antibiotics was, however, associated with significantly better rates of clinical remission (days 2 to 5: relative risk (RR) = 1.31, 95% CI = 1.11-1.55), with a suggestion that this benefit was maintained for late clinical remission (days 6 to 10: RR = 1.27, 95% CI = 1.00-1.61). Acute bacterial conjunctivitis is frequently a self-limiting condition but the use of antibiotics is associated with significantly improved rates of early clinical remission, and early and late microbiological remission. Since trials to date have been conducted in selected specialist care patient populations, generalisation of these results to a primary care-based population should be undertaken with a degree of caution.

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