Conjunctivitis: Causes, symptoms & treatment

Conjunctivitis is also known as pink eye.

It is caused by inflammation of the covering of the white of the eye and inside of the eyelids. There are a number of different types of conjunctivitis, including the viral version which is highly contagious and is especially prominent amongst schoolchildren, students and teachers.

Conjunctivitis: Causes

The three main causes of conjunctivitis are:

  • Viral conjunctivitis: spread by a virus and is highly contagious, but will usually clear up on its own after a few days with no need for medical intervention. However, to speed the process, medicine can be obtained from your doctor, chemist or pharmacy to treat the symptoms which can be irritating.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: caused by bacterial infection of the tissue lining the eyelid and front surface of the eyeball.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis: caused by eye irritants such as pollen, dust and certain pets such as cats and dogs.

Conjunctivitis: Symptoms

Conjunctivitis symptoms do vary depending on the type of conjunctivitis you have:

Viral conjunctivitis: your eyes are watery and itchy and possibly sensitive to light. This version of the condition can be passed by coughing and sneezing.

Bacterial conjunctivitis: If a sufferer has bacterial conjunctivitis, a sticky greeny-yellowy discharge will be present in the corner of the eye. On occasions, the discharge can stick the eyelids together on waking. This version of the condition can be spread through direct contact with infected hands or objects that have been in contact with the eye.

Allergic conjunctivitis: Burning, itchy and watery eyes. As this type of conjunctivitis is caused by allergens, it isn’t contagious.

Conjunctivitis: Treatment

Similarly, conjunctivitis treatments also vary depending on the type of conjunctivitis you have:

Viral conjunctivitis: bathing the infected eye or eyes with a cold, damp flannel will help to relieve the symptoms, which will clear up after a few days. Be sure to keep the flannel separate so that the infection is not spread.

Bacterial conjunctivitis: this can be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments.

Allergic conjunctivitis: as this is allergen-based, best practice is to take prescribed or over-the-counter medicines to alleviate the symptoms. These can be taken before the threat of the infection becomes present, for example before contact with cats or dogs or before exposure to high pollen counts.

conjunctivitis treatments

Conjunctivitis: Prevention

As virus and bacterial conjunctivitis are both infectious eye conditions, the main method of prevention is to hinder the threat or possibility of infection. This can be improved by:

  • keeping personal wash items such as towels and flannels separate, especially after infection
  • covering nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and disposing of the infected material and de-sanitising immediately
  • keeping contact lenses personal and not sharing them (coloured or novelty ones)
  • washing hands frequently, especially when in public places or after going to the toilet
  • keeping shared spaces clean and disinfected, especially bathroom and kitchen areas
  • taking anti-allergy medication before the high pollen season begins or before contact with animals
  • wearing swimming goggles in public baths
  • removing contact lenses before showering to clean any bacteria or infection out

In all cases of suspected eye infection or red eye, consult your optometrist for a thorough examination and further advice.

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