Conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin clear tissue that lies over the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid. Children are mostly affected by this eye condition. It can be highly contagious and it spreads rapidly in schools and day cares, but it’s rarely serious. Conjunctivitis is unlikely to damage your vision, especially if you find it and treat it quickly. When you take care to prevent its spread and do all the things your doctor recommends, pinkeye clears up with no long-term problems.
A virus or a bacteria can cause this eye infection and sometimes, it is linked to a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Doctors can use antibiotics to treat you, but the antibiotics will not help if the cause is a virus. Pink eye can also result from an allergy, an irritation, or an infection. Symptoms normally last up to 2 weeks, but they can persist for longer. It is important to wash your hands carefully and not to share personal items, such as towels, to prevent the spread of the infection to others.
Look Out For These Signs and Symptoms
The primary types of conjunctivitis based on cause, are viral, bacterial and allergic.
Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, like the common cold. This type of pink eye is very contagious, but usually will clear up on its own within several days without medical treatment.
On the other hand, bacterial conjunctivitis which is caused by bacteria can cause serious damage to the eye if left untreated. Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by eye irritants such as pollen, dust and animal dander among susceptible individuals. Allergic conjunctivitis may be seasonal (pollen) or flare up year-round (dust; pet dander).
The signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis you should look out for include the following:
- Eye redness, because of irritation and widening of the tiny blood vessels in the conjunctiva.
- A shiny, watery eye, as the tear glands become overactive.
- A sticky or crusty coating on the eyelashes, especially on waking after a long sleep, because the infection produces mucus.
- Soreness and “grittiness,” like sand in the eye.
- Swelling, due to inflammation or rubbing.
In some occasions, the redness and soreness may affect one eye first, then spread to the other.
How is Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?
Conjunctivitis can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination and testing, with special emphasis on the conjunctiva and surrounding tissues. Your eye doctor will take your history to determine the symptoms, when the symptoms began, and whether any general health or environmental conditions are contributing to the problem. As part of the diagnostic process, visual acuity measurements will be conducted by your eye doctor to determine whether your vision has been affected.
The evaluation of the conjunctiva and external eye tissue is done using bright light and magnification. Evaluation of the inner structures of the eye is to ensure that no other tissues are affected by the condition. Supplemental testing, which may include taking cultures or smears of conjunctival tissue is particularly important in cases of chronic conjunctivitis or when the condition is not responding to treatment.
All the information your eye doctor obtains from these tests and evaluations, will help him determine if you have conjunctivitis and advise you on treatment options and approaches.
How is Conjunctivitis Treated?
Treating conjunctivitis has three main goals. The first is to Increase your eye comfort, and the second is to reduce or lessen the course of the infection or inflammation. The third and final treatment goal is to prevent the spread of the infection in contagious forms of conjunctivitis.
Your eye doctor will treat your conjunctivitis based on its type, which is dependent on its cause.
For allergic conjunctivitis, the first step is to remove or avoid the irritant, if possible. Cool compresses and artificial tears sometimes relieve discomfort in mild cases. In more severe cases, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines may be prescribed. People with persistent allergic conjunctivitis may also require topical steroid eye drops.
For bacterial conjunctivitis, treatment with antibiotic eye drops or ointments is the approach taken. Bacterial conjunctivitis may improve after three or four days of treatment, but patients need to take the entire course of antibiotics to prevent recurrence.
For viral conjunctivitis, no drops or ointments can be used for treatment. Antibiotics will not cure a viral infection. Like a common cold, the virus has to run its course, which may take up to two or three weeks. Symptoms can often be relieved with cool compresses and artificial tear solutions. For the worst cases, topical steroid drops may be prescribed to reduce the discomfort from inflammation. However, these drops will not shorten the infection.
For chemical conjunctivitis, careful flushing of the eyes with saline is the standard treatment. People with chemical conjunctivitis may also need to use topical steroids. Severe chemical injuries, particularly alkali burns, are medical emergencies and can lead to scarring, damage to the eye or the sight, or even loss of the eye. If a chemical spills in your eye, flush the eye for several minutes with a lot of water before seeing your medical provider.
Quick Steps To Prevent Conjunctivitis
You can protect your eyes against conjunctivitis by doing some very simple but yet important things. Here are some of the best ways you can prevent getting infected with it or spreading it to others around you :
- Don’t touch your eyes with your hands.
- Wash your hands often.
- Use a clean towel and washcloth daily.
- Don’t share towels or washcloths.
- Change your pillowcases often.
- Throw away your eye cosmetics, such as mascara.
- Don’t share eye cosmetics .
- All About Vision
- American Optometric Association – conjunctivitis
- Medical News Today – conjunctivitis