Chloramphenicol eye drops and eye ointment

Chloramphenicol eye drops and eye ointment are used to treat some types of eye infections caused by bacteria (called bacterial conjunctivitis). Find out how to apply it safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Antibiotic for eye infections
  • Chlorafast®
  • Chlorsig®

What is chloramphenicol?

Chloramphenicol eye drops and eye ointment are used to treat some types of eye infections caused by bacteria (called bacterial conjunctivitis). Bacterial conjunctivitis affects the surface of your eye. The most common symptoms are red eye, feeling you have something ‘gritty’ in your eye and sticky eye (eyes are glued together especially in the morning on waking). Read more about bacterial conjunctivitis. 

In New Zealand chloramphenicol eye drops and ointment are available on prescription from your doctor. The drops can also be bought from your pharmacy without a prescription, after consultation with a pharmacist. 


Eye drops: use 1 to 2 drops every 2 hours to start with and, as infection improves, reduce to 1 to 2 drops every 6 hours for up to 5 to 7 days, or for at least 2 days after the infection clears, whichever occurs first. 
Note: just use the drops while you are awake – you don't need to wake yourself during the night to put them in.

Eye ointment: apply 1.5 cm of ointment inside the lower eyelid 3 times a day. If used together with eye drops, use the eye drops during the day and the ointment once at night. Continue treatment for 2 days after the infection clears.

If your eyes are no better after two days of treatment, you must see your doctor.

How to use chloramphenicol

  • If your eyes have a 'crust', it can help if you bathe them with cool clean water before you use chloramphenicol.
  • When you first put the eye drops or eye ointment into your eye, they can cause blurred vision. This should quickly clear. Make sure you can see clearly before you drive or use machines or tools.
  • Take care not to touch your eyelids or surrounding areas with the dropper tip of the bottle or ointment tube.

Read more about how to apply eye drops and how to apply eye ointment.

Contact lenses

Avoid wearing contact lenses while using chloramphenicol.

  • If you wear hard or disposable contact lenses, you can start using your lenses again after finishing treatment.
  • If you have disposable lenses, use new lenses after finishing treatment.
  • If you are wearing soft (non-disposable) contact lenses, wait 24 hours after finishing treatment before starting to use your lenses again.
  • Clean non-disposable lenses well before using again, and use a new contact lens case.

Precautions before using chloramphenicol

  • Do you wear contact lenses?
  • Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?

If so, it’s important that you tell your doctor or pharmacist before using chloramphenicol. Sometimes a medicine isn’t suitable for a person with certain conditions or it can only be used with extra care.

What are the side effects of chloramphenicol (eye)?

Chloramphenicol eye drops and eye ointment can sometimes cause mild eye irritation or stinging, but these usually pass within a day or so. If the irritation continues, or if you experience any other eye problems, talk to your doctor, optometrist or pharmacist.

Did you know that you can report a side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product


  1. Chloramphenicol (eye) New Zealand Formulary

Additional resources for healthcare professionals

Chlorsig Medsafe, NZ
Minims Medsafe, NZ
Chlorafast Medsafe, NZ
Topical antibiotics – keep reducing use BPAC, NZ, 2018
Antibiotics – choices for common infections BPAC, NZ, 2017
Hazardous substance poisoning in children – poisons in and around the house BPAC, NZ, 2014
Causes, complications and treatment of a red eye BPAC, NZ, 2013

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 27 May 2019