Conjunctivitis also known as pink eye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which are the clear mucous membranes surrounding the white of the eye and the inside of the eye lids.
Symptoms are redness or pinkness of the white part of the eye, itching, watery discharge, crusts around the eyelash and a scratchy feeling when you blink.
Who is at Risk of Conjunctivitis
Risk factors for conjunctivitis include
- Upper respiratory infections
- Exposure to at infected children
Conjunctivitis can be caused by bacteria or a virus, or by environmental factors, such as pollen or other allergens.
Viral conjunctivitis often occurs following a cold or other upper respiratory infections, with adenoviruses being the most common culprits. Bacterial conjunctivitis is very contagious and is easily spread when people rub their eyes with their fingers. It is especially common among children in schools and day care centres, because infected children cannot be relied on to wash their hands after touching their eyes. Neonatal opthalmia is a form of conjunctivitis that can affect babies during child-birth if their mothers have contracted herpes, Chlamydia or gonorrhoea. This form of conjunctivitis can spread throughout the eye and cause blindness unless it is treated promptly.
If you have symptoms of conjunctivitis go to an eye doctor. Conjunctivitis is diagnosed based on the appearance of the eye. The doctor may take a sample discharge for testing to see if the cause is bacterial. Since conjunctivitis does not affect the portions of the eye involved in sight, any changes in vision should be evaluated for other possible causes.
Relieve the symptoms by wiping away any discharge with a moist cotton ball or tissue. Be sure to wash your hands before and after treating your eyes to avoid spreading the infection to the other eye and to other people in the household.
Bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic ointments or eye drops to eliminate the infection. Viral conjunctivitis does not respond to antibiotics, but the body's natural immune system can usually get rid of the infection within a week. Often antibiotics are prescribed to avoid a secondary bacterial infection. Allergic conjunctivitis can be treated with antihistamine eye drops.
Good personal hygiene can significantly reduce the risk of contracting or spreading conjunctivitis. Do not touch your eyes with your hands and try an encourage children not to do so. Wash your hands frequently. Avoid sharing towels, washcloths and eye make-up, all of which can spread the infection. Prevent allergic conjunctivitis by avoiding substances that have caused it in the past, such as particular brands of mascara or contact lens cleaning solution.
Newborn conjunctivitis can be prevented with good prenatal and neonatal care. Pregnant women should be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and treated if necessary.