What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is redness and soreness due to inflammation of the clear covering (the conjunctiva) over the white of the eye and the eyelids. This covering is normally clear and transparent but in conjunctivitis becomes red and angry-looking.

What Causes conjunctivitis?

The two most common causes for this condition are viruses and bacteria but some allergic reactions can result in similar symptoms.  Bacterial Conjunctivitis is an infection most often caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria from your own skin or respiratory system. Insects can carry the infection,  which can also occur by physical contact with other people, poor hygiene (touching the eye with unclean hands), or by use of contaminated eye makeup and facial lotions.

Viral Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by contagious viruses associated with the common cold. This happens through being exposed to people with upper respiratory tract infections   coughing or sneezing . It can also occur as the virus spreads along the body’s own mucous membranes connecting lungs, throat, nose, tear ducts, and conjunctiva.

What symptoms does it cause?

There are a number of possible symptoms, but one eye normally starts to become affected before the other. The eye looks red and swollen and this redness extends onto the eyelids as well as the white of the eye. There is often a discharge around the eyelids and this is worse on waking – the eyes may seem to be ‘stuck down’ with matter. Itching and pain on rubbing the eyes is also common, with sufferers often saying their eyes feel ‘gritty’, and occasionally bright light may make all these symptoms worse.

How is it diagnosed?

Most doctors will diagnose conjunctivitis without needing to use any special tests or investigations. However, to be absolutely certain a swab of the eyes (similar to a cotton bud) may be taken that is analysed at the local hospital laboratory to show what is causing the infection. Although the results of this test may take several days to return, your doctor usually starts your treatment before the results are known, only changing the type of treatmentif the test results suggest a different cause. Your doctor may also look into your eyes with a special torch called an ophthalmoscope to examine the back of the eye, and sometimes a special dye is painlessly dropped into the eye that shows up any ulcers or scratches on the front of the eyeball.

What is the treatment of conjunctivitis?

The treatment of conjunctivitis has three main goals:

1. To increase patient comfort.

2. To reduce the course of the infection or inflammation.

3. To prevent the spread of the infection when the conjunctivitis is contagious.

The best treatment for conjunctivitis depends on its cause:

In bacterial conjunctivitis, treatment is usually with antibiotic eye drops or ointments. Improvement can be seen after three or four days of treatment, but the entire course of antibiotics needs to be used to prevent recurrence. .

With viral conjunctivitis there are no available drops or ointments to treat the virus, and antibiotics will not cure a viral infection. The virus just has to run its course, which may take up to two or three weeks. However, the symptoms can sometimes 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, but do not shorten the course of the infection.  Fortunately, most cases of viral conjunctivitis clear quite quickly by themselves. .

In allergic conjunctivitis, the first step should be to remove or avoid the irritant (what’s causing the allergy), if possible. Cool compresses and artificial tears sometimes relieve discomfort in mild cases and in more severe cases, antihistamines may be prescribed. Cases of constant allergic conjunctivitis may also need steroid eye drops.

What can I do to help myself if I have conjunctivitis?

  • Don't touch your eyes with your hands.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
  • Change your towel and washcloth daily, and don't share them with others.
  • Throw away eye cosmetics, particularly mascara.
  • Don't use anyone else's eye cosmetics or personal eye-care items.
  • Follow your eye doctor's instructions on proper contact lens care.
  • Never rub one eye and then the other with the same hand,
  • Always throw away old bottles of eye drops when you have finished with them.