Conjunctivitis

(Pink Eye)

Definition

Conjunctivitis is swelling and irritation in the eye. It affects the tissue that covers the eye and lines the inner surface of the eyelid. This tissue is called the conjunctiva.
Eye with Conjunctivitis
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Causes

There are many causes of conjunctivitis including:
  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection
  • Allergic reaction, usually related to seasonal allergies
  • Chemical irritation caused by:
    • Air pollutants
    • Soap
    • Smoke
    • Chlorine
    • Make-up
    • Other chemicals
Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious.

Risk Factors

This condition is more common in children. Factors that may increase your risk of conjunctivitis include:
  • Contact with a person who has conjunctivitis
  • Sharing towels, linens, or other objects (even doorknobs) with an infected person
  • Exposure to chemical or environmental irritants
  • Contact lenses , especially if contacts are not cleaned and stored properly
  • Seasonal allergies or contact with known allergens

Symptoms

Symptoms include:
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Swollen inner eyelids
  • Scratchy feeling in the eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Pus-like or watery discharge
  • Swelling of the eyelid
Conjunctivitis will usually clear up within 2-14 days. If conjunctivitis is caused by a seasonal allergy, it may continue throughout the season. If it is caused by a non-seasonal allergy, it may continue to occur year round.Note: These symptoms can sometimes indicate a more serious medical problem. If you develop these or any other symptoms, see your doctor.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. Your eyes will be examined. If there is discharge from your eye, it may be tested. The discharge will help find the cause of the conjunctivitis.

Treatment

If you wear contacts, avoid wearing contact lenses until the conjunctivitis has cleared.Treatment will depend on the cause of the conjunctivitis:

Bacterial Infection

Antibiotic eye drops and/or ointment may be prescribed. These drops will help shorten the course of the infection. It will also decrease the amount of time it is contagious. Wipe away any discharge with a clean cotton ball before using the drops.

Viral Infection

There is no medication to cure a viral infection. To help relieve discomfort consider:
  • Applying warm compresses
  • Artificial tears (found in pharmacies)

Allergic or Chemical Irritation

Avoid the cause of the irritation. Apply cool compresses to the affected area. You may be prescribed eye drops to help relieve allergic conjunctivitis.

To Prevent Further Spread of Infection

If you have a bacterial or viral infection, follow these steps to prevent the spread of infection:
  • Keep hands away from your face and do not rub your eyes.
  • Change pillowcases and towels every night.
  • Do not share pillows or towels.
  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Avoid shaking hands with others.
  • Avoid swimming.
  • Carefully clean away any discharge with warm water and clean cotton (or gauze) and immediately discard.

Prevention

To decrease your chance of conjunctivitis:
  • Do not share makeup or eye drops with anyone.
  • Avoid sharing towels, washcloths, pillows, and handkerchiefs,
  • Wash your hands frequently. Keep your hands away from your eyes.
  • Clean contact lenses daily. Never sleep while wearing them unless advised to do so by your eye doctor.
  • In case of allergic conjunctivitis, avoid the allergy causing substances and irritants.
Your doctor may recommend other prevention methods, depending on the cause.

RESOURCES

American Optometric Association
http://www.aoa.org

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Family Physician
http://www.cfp.ca

Canadian Ophthalmological Society
http://www.eyesite.ca

References

Infectious conjunctivitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 6, 2014. Accessed September 15, 2014.

Pinkeye (conjunctivitis). American Academy of Pediatrics—Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/eyes/Pages/PinkEye-Conjunctivitis.aspx . Updated September 2, 2014. Accessed September 15, 2014.

Viral conjunctivitis. Review of Optometry. 2001.

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