What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is one of the most common eye infections in children and adults. Often called “pink eye,” it is an inflammation (swelling) of the conjunctiva, the tissue that lines the inside surface of the eyelid and outer coating of the eye. This tissue helps keep the eyelid and eyeball moist.
Conjunctivitis can be caused by virus, bacteria, allergens (substances that cause allergies) or sexually transmitted infections. Pink eye caused by bacteria, viruses, and sexually transmitted infections can spread easily from person to person, but is not a serious health risk if diagnosed promptly.
What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis?
The symptoms of conjunctivitis include the following:
- Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid
- Greater amount of tears
- Thick yellow discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially after sleep (in conjunctivitis caused by bacteria)
- Other discharge from your eye (green or white)
- Itchy eyes
- Burning eyes (especially in conjunctivitis caused by chemicals and irritants)
- Increased sensitivity to light
How is conjunctivitis treated?
Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics, a type of medicine prescribed by your doctor. The antibiotic can be given as eye drops, ointments, or pills. Eye drops or ointments may need to be applied to the eye three to four times a day for five to seven days. It may be difficult to apply ointments in a child’s eye. If the ointment gets as far as the eyelashes, it will most likely melt and enter the eye. Pills may need to be taken for several days. The infection should improve within a week. This is one of the best solutions to how to treat conjunctivitis. Take the medicine as instructed by your doctor, even if the symptoms go away.
Medicine cannot treat conjunctivitis caused by a virus. This type of conjunctivitis often results from a common cold. Just as a cold must run its course, so must this form of conjunctivitis, which will last from four to seven days. You can help relieve symptoms by applying a cold compress and using artificial tears as recommended by your doctor. This is an effective viral conjunctivitis treatment.
Allergy associated conjunctivitis should be checked by your ophthalmologist as well as an allergist. It may disappear completely when the allergy is treated with antihistamines or when the allergen is removed. You can relieve symptoms temporarily by applying a cold compress on closed eyes.
Being around a person who has conjunctivitis and wearing contact lenses may increase your risk of getting conjunctivitis, but the outcome is usually very good with treatment. Please note that eyes can become re-infected. Call your doctor if symptoms return or if vision decreases after being treated.
What can I do to help relieve symptoms of conjunctivitis?
Take these measures to relieve the symptoms of conjunctivitis:
- Protect your eyes from irritating substances.
- Remove contact lenses, if you wear them.
- Place cold compresses on your eyes and do not share washcloths or towels with others.
- Wash your face and eyelids with mild soap or baby shampoo and rinse with water to remove irritating substances.
Non-prescription “artificial tears,” a type of eye drops, may help relieve itching and burning from irritating substances. (Note: Other types of eye drops may irritate the eyes and should not be used.) Do not use the same bottle of drops in the other eye if it is not infected.
If your child has bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, keep him or her home from school or day care until he or she is no longer contagious.