Chloramphenicol eye drops and eye ointment

Chloramphenicol eye drops and eye ointment are used to protect the eye against bacteria and to treat some types of eye infections. Find out how to apply it safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Antibiotic 
 
  • Chlorafast® (eye drops)
  • Chlorsig® (eye ointment)

What is chloramphenicol?

Chloramphenicol eye drops and eye ointment are used to protect the eye or eyelids after surgery (eg, cataract surgery), protect the eye after getting a scratch or injury and to treat some types of eye infections, eg, bacterial conjunctivitis. 

Bacterial conjunctivitis is a condition that affects the surface of your eye. The most common symptoms are red eye, feeling you have something ‘gritty’ in your eye and sticky eye (when your eyes are glued together especially in the morning on waking due to a white sticky discharge). Read more about bacterial conjunctivitis. You must see an optometrist or eye specialist to have this correctly diagnosed, especially if you wear contact lenses.

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

Dose

Eye drops: Use 1 drop in the eye(s) every 2–6 hours for 2–3 days, then reduce to 4 times a day. Continue treatment for 48 hours after your eye appears normal. 

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 eye appears normal.

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', gently clean this off 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 after applying eye drops but ointments may smear your vision for longer. 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 your 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.

  • Chloramphenicol is not recommended for children under 2 years of age except under medical advice.
  • Don't use it if you are allergic to this medicine.

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, visit your optometrist, doctor 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.

References

  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: Kenny Wu, Optometrist, Eye Institute, Auckland Last reviewed: 01 Nov 2022