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What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is the term used to describe swelling (inflammation) of the conjunctiva — the thin, filmy membrane that covers the inside of your eyelids and the white part of your eye (known as the sclera). Often this condition is called “pink eye.”

The conjunctiva, which contains tiny blood vessels, produces mucus to keep the surface of your eye moist and protected. When the conjunctiva becomes irritated or swollen, the blood vessels become larger and more prominent, making your eye appear red. Signs of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes.

There are Three types of Conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis

This is a highly contagious form of pink eye caused by bacterial infections. This type of conjunctivitis usually causes a red eye with a lot of pus.

Viral conjunctivitis

The most common cause of pink eye is the same virus that causes the common cold, and is also very contagious.

Allergic conjunctivitis

This form of conjunctivitis is caused by the body’s reaction to an allergen or irritant. It is not contagious.

Conjunctivitis: Causes of Pink Eye

Viral infection

is a common cause of conjunctivitis. This same virus that produces red and watery eyes also causes the sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis can last from a few days to two weeks and then will disappear on their own. Discomfort, however, can be minimized with cool compresses applied to the eyes. Antibiotic eyedrops do not cure viral conjunctivitis.

Bacterial infections

such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus, cause a red eye with a lot of pus. Often the eyelids are glued shut on awakening. Infrequently, bacterial infections will produce little or no discharge except for some mild crusting of the eyelashes in the morning. Antibiotic eyedrops are often prescribed because they speed the eye’s healing and reduce contagion.

Allergic conjunctivitis

is not infectious or contagious. It occurs when the body is exposed to something that causes an allergic reaction, such as pollen or other environmental allergen, or pet dander. The primary symptom is itching. Other common symptoms include redness of the conjunctiva, burning, tearing, and puffy eyelids. Occasionally the conjunctiva becomes swollen. Treatment often includes applying cool compresses to the eyes and using anti-allergy eyedrops and artificial tears. Many patients find that drops that have been cooled in the refrigerator are especially comforting. Oral anti-allergy medications do not significantly improve the symptoms of ocular allergies.

Environmental irritants

such as smoke or fumes, may also cause conjunctivitis. The symptoms are burning and irritation, with no discharge or watery discharge.

Conjunctivitis: Pink Eye Symptoms

  • Mild eyelid swelling
  • Redness in the white of the eye (conjunctiva) or the inner eyelid
  • Increased tearing, mucous or pus production
  • Eye irritation
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Itchiness of the eye
  • Mild blurred vision due to mucus or pus
  • Crusting of eyelashes in the morning, possibly gluing the eyes shut

Conjunctivitis: Pink Eye Diagnosis

Your Doctor can diagnose most cases of conjunctivitis with an eye examination. Tell your doctor whether your pink eye symptoms came on gradually or appeared suddenly, and whether you have been exposed to anyone else with pink eye symptoms.

Conjunctivitis: Pink Eye Treatment

Viral conjunctivitis treatment

With viral conjunctivitis, symptoms can last from one to two weeks and then will typically disappear on their own. Discomfort can be minimized with cool compresses applied to the eye and cool artificial tears. This is typically the only treatment that is necessary. Severe cases can benefit from anti-inflammatory drops that should only be prescribed by an ophthalmologist.

Bacterial conjunctivitis treatment

For bacterial conjunctivitis, your Eye M.D. will typically prescribe antibiotic eye drops to treat the infection. Occasionally it is difficult to distinguish bacterial from viral conjunctivitis, and in this case drops will likely be prescribed.

Allergic conjunctivitis treatment

For allergic conjunctivitis, treatment often includes applying cool compresses to the eyes and using allergy eyedrops and artificial tears that have been cooled in the refrigerator.

How to prevent from spreading infectious conjunctivitis:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid touching your eyes with your hands.
  • Avoid reusing towels, washcloths, handkerchiefs and tissues to wipe your face and eyes.
  • Change your pillowcase frequently.
  • Replace your eye cosmetics regularly with new ones, and do not share them with other people.
  • Always clean your contact lenses properly. In the case of disposable contacts, follow the instructions on the box and dispose when advised.


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