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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Apr 19;(2):CD001211.

Antibiotics versus placebo for acute bacterial conjunctivitis.

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  • 1University of Edinburgh, Division of Community Health Sciences: GP Section, 20 West Richmond Street, Edinburgh, UK, EH8 9DX.

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There are concerns about whether antibiotic therapy confers significant clinical benefit in the treatment of acute bacterial conjunctivitis.


The aim of this review was to assess the benefit and harm of antibiotic therapy in the management of acute bacterial conjunctivitis.


We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (which contains the Cochrane Eyes and Vision Group Trials Register), MEDLINE, EMBASE, SIGLE, NRR, PubMed and the reference lists of identified trial reports. We used the Science Citation Index to look for articles that cited the relevant studies, and we contacted investigators and pharmaceutical companies for information about additional trials.


We included double masked randomised controlled trials in which any form of antibiotic treatment had been compared with placebo in the management of acute bacterial conjunctivitis. This included topical, systemic and combination (for example, antibiotics and steroids) antibiotic treatments.


One author extracted data and the accuracy was checked by a second author.


This review includes five trials which randomised a total of 1034 participants. One further trial is currently 'awaiting assessment'. This has been published in abstract form and has yet to be fully reported. Three of the trials have been conducted on a selected specialist care patient population and the two more recent trials have been conducted in a community care setting. The trials were heterogeneous in terms of their inclusion and exclusion criteria, the nature of the intervention, and the outcome measures assessed. Meta-analyses of data on clinical and microbiological remission rates reveal that topical antibiotics are of benefit in improving early (days 2 to 5) clinical (RR 1.24, 95% CI 1.05 to 1.45) and microbiological (RR 1.77, 95% CI 1.23 to 2.54) remission rates; later (days 6 to 10) data reveal that these early advantages in clinical (RR 1.11, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.21) and microbiological cure rates are reduced (RR 1.56, 95% CI 1.17 to 2.09), but persist. Most cases however resolve spontaneously with clinical remission being achieved in 65% (95% CI 59 to 70) by days 2 to 5 in those receiving placebo. No serious outcomes were reported in either the active or placebo arms of these trials, indicating that important sight-threatening complications are an infrequent occurrence.


Acute bacterial conjunctivitis is frequently a self-limiting condition, but the use of antibiotics is associated with significantly improved rates of clinical and microbiological remission.

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