What is Conjunctivitis?

24 April 2019

Author: Tami

What is Conjunctivitis?

Better known by its less glamourous name of ‘pink eye’, conjunctivitis is a very common eye condition that is caused by allergies or infection. To be more technical, it is whereby the conjunctiva of your eye becomes swelled or inflamed. 

Generally, conjunctivitis is a not a problematic eye condition, although there are some forms that are highly contagious, spreading quickly, particularly within schools or at home.

Symptoms of Conjunctivitis

  • Grit like feeling within one or both eyes
  • Extreme redness in the eyelids or white of the eye
  • Itchy eyes
  • A burning sensation within the eye
  • Yellow discharge crusting over the corners of the eye, and in the eyelashes (this commonly occurs during sleep, where you may wake unable to open your eye without some effort)
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision
  • Yellow or green tinged discharge
  • Swollen eyelids

Causes of Conjunctivitis

The cause of the conjunctivitis eye disease is dependent on the type; infectious, allergic or chemical.

Infectious Conjunctivitis

  • BACTERIAL: Bacteria from your own system, small wildlife, physical contact or sharing contaminated make up, as well as well poor hygiene, such as touching your eyes with unclean hands, can all contribute to the infection. It is highly recommended that you avoid sharing eye make-up and/or contact lenses that could allow conjunctivitis to spread.

  • VIRAL conjunctivitis is whereby you may catch the infection through something as simple as a common cold. Exposure to someone sneezing or coughing on you could contribute to conjunctivitis. The body has mucous membranes that connect parts of the body to each other; this includes the lungs, throat, nose, tear ducts and conjunctiva. Bear in mind, blowing your nose forcefully can cause a virus to move away from your respiratory system to your eyes in cases like this.

  • Conjunctivitis in babies can come in the form of ‘ophthalmia neonatorum’. This is an extremely severe form of the condition that could lead to permanent eye damage if not tended to immediately. In these cases, a newborn baby has been exposed to chlamydia or ghonorrhea during birth.

Chemical Conjunctivitis

This form of the condition may occur through irritants like air pollution or acidic/alkaline materials like bleach. It is recommended that you use water to rinse the eye, and contact your doctor immediately.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

ALLERGIC: If you already suffer from seasonal allergies, this form of the eye condition may be quite common, and may occur if you come into contact with the substance that aggravates your allergy.

If you wear hard contact lenses, you do not replace your soft contact lenses regularly, or you have a small exposed stitch within the eye, this may also aggravate the conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis Treatment

Keep the eyes clean: Wash your eyes with cotton balls or a paper towel regularly if you have a build-up of discharge. Ensure that you dispose of the cotton ball or paper towel appropriately, and remember to wash your hands with soap and water (double up with antibacterial gel to be safe).

If you are suffering with bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotic drops are usually prescribed, which allows for improvement after about one week. You will need to ensure that you take the full course of antibiotics to prevent the condition from reoccurring.  

With viral conjunctivitis, unfortunately drops or ointments do not usually alleviate the symptoms of the disease. Like a common cold, you will need to wait for it to run its course, which could take up to a few weeks to disappear. We recommend cold compresses, however it is possible to get steroid drops if the inflammation is particularly uncomfortable.

Attempt to remove or stay clear of the irritant that is aggravating your allergic conjunctivitis. As with a viral infection, a cold compress or artificial tears is recommended to relieve your discomfort. Antihistamines are available for relief too, however if the symptoms do persist, topical steroid drops may be required.

As a preventative measure, ensure that you:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water, particularly before eating to ensure you are minimising the risk of catching conjunctivitis.
  • Change your towel, face cloth and/or pillowcase daily.
  • Do not share any items that may come into contact with your eyes.
  • Discard any eye make-up.
  • Avoid sharing any eye make-up.
  • Follow all instructions for proper contact lens use.

Do not touch or rub your eyes with your fingers – instead use a tissue and discard appropriately.

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