Erythromycin (Ophthalmic)

Erythromycin (ophthalmic) is a potent antibiotic which can both treat and prevent infections in the eye.


Erythromycin ophthalmic is a powerful tool for fighting bacterial infections in the eye. Erythromycin ophthalmic is most commonly used in newborns to prevent them from developing eye infections, but is more than adequate in fighting many pre-existing infections in the eye as well. When administered directly into the eye, erythromycin ophthalmic has few side effects.

Erythromycin was first developed in 1952. In 1964, the FDA first approved erythromycin for use via the ophthalmic route, which was developed by Dista Products Ltd. Since then, the FDA has approved several other companies to produce erythromycin ophthalmic, including Perrigo, Bausch and Lomb, and Akorn Pharmaceuticals. Erythromycin is featured on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines.

As a generic medication, erythromycin is fairly inexpensive. Per treatment cost may be as low as 3 cents.

Conditions Treated

  • Infections of the eye
  • Neonatal conjunctivitis (prophylaxis)
  • Ophthalmia neonatorum (prophylaxis)

Type Of Medicine

  • Antibiotic

Side Effects

Along with its primary, infection-fighting effects, erythromycin can cause some undesirable side effects. Some of these side effects may be serious and require medical attention. Other side effects may only be as serious as the discomfort they cause the patient. Patients who begin to experience any of the following side effects after beginning to take erythromycin should contact their doctor immediately, as medical attention may be necessary:

Sudden eye irritation

Not all side effects necessarily require medical attention. Some of the side effects are simply the result of the patient's body adapting to the sudden influx of new medicine. Patients who experience any of the following side effects should consult with their doctor to find out how to mitigate or otherwise lessen the most unpleasant side effects:

Temporary blurred vision

Burning or stinging sensation in the eye at the time of application

If any of the above symptoms persist well past the point of application, patients should notify their doctor as the erythromycin may have badly irritated the patient's eye.

Many patients use erythromycin ophthalmic without any adverse side effects.

This is not necessarily a complete list of side effects. Patients who begin to experience new or worsening symptoms after beginning to use erythromycin ophthalmic should contact their doctor immediately. Patients can report new side effects to the FDA by calling 1(800) FDA-1088 or by going to


Before attempting to apply erythromycin ophthalmic to their eye, patients should wash their hands and make sure that their applicator for the erythromycin ophthalmic is sterile.

Erythromycin ophthalmic should be applied directly to the patient's eye. To accomplish this, patients should set themselves up with the medication already measured out in one hand and leave the other hand free to hold their eye open. Patients should first tilt their head back, then pull down on their lower eyelid, which should create a bit of a pocket between the pulled back eyelid and the patient's eyeball.

Patients should then proceed to squeeze a line of medicine into the pocket created by the held back eyelid and the patient's eyeball. Patients with especially strong eye muscles or strong reflexes may find it beneficial to look up and away from the point where the ointment is being applied.

When applying the medicine, patients should be careful to avoid touching the tip of the erythromycin ophthalmic tube to their eye. By doing this, they will avoid contaminating their applicator and avoid aggravating their eye by touching it.

Once the medication is applied, patients should then look downwards and close their eyes. Patients should keep their eyes closed and roll their eyes around to ensure the erythromycin ophthalmic reaches the areas it needs to in order to fight or ward off an infection.

Patients may find their vision to be blurred immediately after applying the ointment. This is normal.

The amount of erythromycin ophthalmic applied is usually measured by the length of the line of ointment the patient puts in their eye. Patients should rely on their doctor to identify the proper dose for them. In most situations, a half-inch line of the erythromycin ophthalmic ointment will suffice.

Patients who miss a dose should apply the missed dose as soon as they remember. If it is nearly time for them to apply their next dose, however, they should simply skip the missed dose. Patients should never attempt to double the amount of the erythromycin ophthalmic ointment they apply to their eye to retroactively make up for a mixed dose.


It is unlikely that any drugs that patients inject or take orally will interact in any way with erythromycin ophthalmic when it is applied directly to the eye. However, drugs will interact with each other in a patient's body, so patients should make sure to inform their doctor of all drugs, supplements, and medications they are taking prior to deciding to use erythromycin ophthalmic.

Erythromycin ophthalmic may interact with other medications which are applied directly to the patient's eye. For this reason, patients should avoid using any other eye medications or eye drops while using erythromycin ophthalmic. The two medications may interact negatively or simply fight with each other for real estate in the patient's eye.


Patients should be very careful to avoid contaminating the applicator they use to administer erythromycin ophthalmic to their eye. If the applicator were to become contaminated, the patient runs the risk of introducing new, damaging bacteria, viruses, fungi, or even parasites into their eye. Patients should make sure to wash their hands before applying erythromycin ophthalmic. In addition, patients should take pains to ensure that their applicator does not come into contact with any foreign objects of their skin in any way.

Erythromycin ophthalmic has been known to cause serious allergic reactions in some patients. Patients who have suffered an allergic reaction to erythromycin before should not use erythromycin ophthalmic. Patients who are using erythromycin ophthalmic should remain vigilant for signs of a serious allergic reaction, including hives, rash, redness, swelling in the neck, throat, or face, and even anaphylaxis.

Erythromycin is considered a class B drug in terms of pregnancy, denoting that erythromycin has demonstrated no adverse effects on animal fetuses during animal trials. However, adequate human trials have not been performed. Patients who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should consult with their doctor before deciding to use erythromycin ophthalmic.

Erythromycin has been shown to pass into breast milk and may have adverse effects on a breastfeeding infant. However, when applied via the ophthalmic route, the erythromycin will only pass into the patient's blood in tiny quantities, if at all. The risk to a breastfeeding infant may be minimal. Patients who are breastfeeding or who may begin breastfeeding should consult with their doctor to find out whether or not erythromycin is right for them.

Erythromycin may cause blurred vision. Patients should avoid applying erythromycin immediately before driving, operating heavy machinery, or any other activity which demands clear vision.

Patients who wear contact lenses should remove their contacts prior to applying the erythromycin ophthalmic to their eye(s). Patients should wait at least 15 minutes before putting their contact lenses back in.

Patients should never swallow or otherwise ingest erythromycin ophthalmic, except when applied to the patient's eye as directed by their doctor. Patients who accidentally swallow any erythromycin ophthalmic ointment should call their doctor immediately or contact poison control by calling 1(800) 222-1222.

When swallowed, it is possible for a patient to overdose on erythromycin ophthalmic. Symptoms of an erythromycin overdose may include fainting or difficulty breathing. Patients who suspect they may have overdosed should contact poison control by calling 1(800) 222-1222.

This is not necessarily a complete list of all the risks and warning associated with using erythromycin ophthalmic. Patients should rely on their doctor to inform them of all the risks associated with using this drug and all of the precautions they must take. Patients should not use erythromycin ophthalmic unless they fully understand the risks associated with its use.


Erythromycin ophthalmic should be stored at room temperature, away from moisture or heat. Patients should make sure that the cap is firmly on the tube of erythromycin ophthalmic ointment at all times when not in use.


Erythromycin ophthalmic is a powerful tool for both fighting and preventing infections in a patient's eye. Because erythromycin ophthalmic is applied directly to the eye, it will never properly enter the patient's bloodstream. For this reason, erythromycin ophthalmic has relatively few side effects and is extremely unlikely to interact with any other drugs, supplements, or medications that a patient is taking.

Erythromycin is a low cost, relatively low-risk way for patients at risk of developing an eye infection to protect one of their most valuable body parts. Even with its few and relatively inconsequential risks, patients should still respect erythromycin ophthalmic as a drug of great strength. If patients give erythromycin ophthalmic the respect it demands, then they should be able to use the drug safely and effectively.