Here are 5 key points about conjunctivitis:
- Inflammation of the skin of the eye
- Common and usually minor
- It can be caused by bacteria, viruses or allergies
- Usually irritated red or pink eye(s) with discharge
- Treatment improves comfort and can lessen the length of the condition
What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the clear thin skin that covers the white of the eye. When the conjunctiva becomes inflamed, the white of the eye appears reddened. A discharge may or may not be present at the same time.
It is a common condition and is generally minor and self-limiting, however, it can be contagious and is especially seen in children. However, occasionally it can be severe and potentially sight threatening, requiring careful treatment.
Causes of conjunctivitis
The inflammation may be infectious (usually bacterial or viral), allergy-related or irritation-related (contact lens or foreign body). It can also be associated with upper respiratory tract viral infections such as the common cold.
Sufferers of hayfever can suffer seasonal episodes of allergic inflammation. Contact lens wearers can develop a form of conjunctivitis due to irritation caused by deposits on the contact lens surface irritating the eye.
Either one or both eyes may be affected simultaneously. The white of the eye becomes pink or red, swollen and can produce a discharge. The discharge can be white, yellow, clear or watery and it can be in the form of long strands or blobs. There is usually irritation or itching, but not usually severe pain. Swelling of the lids and slight sensitivity to light can also be experienced.
Conjunctivitis is normally diagnosed by symptoms and close examination by an optometrist. Microscopic examination of the external and internal structures of the eyes helps in determining the cause of inflammation. This is a completely painless process and is important to enable the optometrist to prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is treated with topical antibiotic drops and usually resolves within 7 days. Viral conjunctivitis has no cure, but comfort can be improved with the use of chilled lubricants and cold compresses. Viral conjunctivitis will generally resolved within 3 weeks.
Allergic conjunctivitis is treated with topical antihistamine drops, chilled lubricants and cold compresses. Inflammation caused by foreign bodies and irritants is treated by removing the irritant. This is a delicate procedure which the optometrist can perform under microscope. Severe conjunctivitis may need further treatment with topical steroid drops.
Reducing your risk
Personal hygiene is important to reduce the risk of infectious conjunctivitis. Washing hands with soap frequently over the day and avoiding touching your face will lesson the chance of acquiring an infection. Avoid close contact with people suffering from it and ensure objects and surfaces they may have touched are cleaned thoroughly. If you have conjunctivitis, self isolation and good hand hygiene will help to prevent it spreading to other people.