Conjunctivitis is irritation or inflammation of the conjunctiva, typically accompanied by redness, watery discharge, and sensitivity to light. Conjunctivitis is an irritation of the thin, normally transparent lining (called the conjunctiva) that covers the inner surface of the eyelids and the outer surface of the white of the eye (the sclera). The symptoms of conjunctivitis include redness, itchiness, irritation, and sensitivity to light. Conjunctivitis is commonly called "pink eye" because of the pale red appearance of the infected eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis is a common and highly contagious infection amongst young children.
What causes conjunctivitis?
Allergies, an infection by bacteria or viruses, or by exposure to chemicals or other irritants can cause conjunctivitis. In allergic conjunctivitis, the conjunctiva usually appears swollen and red. The eyes are usually very watery, and itchiness can be severe. If conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria, a sticky, yellow discharge may be present. This discharge may accumulate between the eyelids during sleep, causing the lids to stick together upon waking. Viral conjunctivitis is usually characterized by redness, itchiness, and a clear, watery discharge. It is often associated with lymphanenopathy or swelling of the lymph nodes anterior to the ear and under the jaw line.
How common is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is very common, especially among people with allergies.
How is conjunctivitis treated?
Most types of conjunctivitis are treated with medicated eye drops or ointments. Your optometrist will be able to prescribe the drops required. In some cases, oral medicines may also be used. Most types of conjunctivitis are not damaging to the eye or sight threatening. However, conjunctivitis caused by exposure to chemicals is a medical emergency, requiring immediate action to prevent eye damage. If a chemical has gotten in your eye, flush the eye with a gentle stream of cool water for at least 15 minutes. Then cover the eye and go to a eye care practitioner immediately. Though flushing the eye with water alone may prevent eye damage from some chemical exposures, it is important to have your eye examined as soon as possible by an optometrist or eye care specialist.
To avoid contracting or spreading conjunctivitis, take the following precautions:
- Wash your hands frequently during the day, especially before and after touching your eyes.
- Avoid rubbing your eyes.
- Do not share washcloths, pillows, towels, and make-up items with others.
- Wash your bedding and towels frequently.
- If you have a case of bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, discard and replace your current make-up, mascara, and eyeliner.
- If you wear contact lenses, clean and disinfect your lenses as directed.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before applying and removing your lenses.
- Replace your contact lenses frequently.
- Don't share your contact lenses with others.
- Wear protective goggles when working with or near chemicals.
- Avoid swimming in non-chlorinated pools or stagnant lakes or ponds.
Author: Stuart Macfarlane