Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is an infection
of the conjunctiva (the outer-most layer of the eye that
covers the sclera). The three most common types of
conjunctivitis are: viral, allergic, and bacterial. Each
requires different treatments. With the exception of the
allergic type, conjunctivitis is typically contagious.
The viral type is often associated with an upper respiratory
tract infection, cold, or sore throat. The allergic type
occurs more frequently among those with allergic conditions.
When related to allergies, the symptoms are often seasonal.
Allergic conjunctivitis may also be caused by intolerance to
substances such as cosmetics, perfume, or drugs. Bacterial
conjunctivitis is often caused by bacteria such as
staphylococcus and streptococcus. The severity of the
infection depends on the type of bacteria involved.
Conjunctivitis is diagnosed during a routine eye exam using
a slit lamp microscope. In some cases, cultures are taken to
determine the type of bacteria causing the infection.
- Watery discharge
- Red eye
- Infection usually begins with one eye, but may spread
easily to the fellow eye
- Usually affects both eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Stringy discharge that may cause the lids to stick
together, especially after sleeping
- Swelling of the conjunctiva
- Irritation and/or a gritty feeling
- Usually affects only one eye, but may spread easily to
the fellow eye
Effect on Vision
See Symptoms above for the effect on vision of the different
types of conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis requires medical attention. The appropriate
treatment depends on the cause of the problem. For the allergic type, cool compresses and artificial
tears sometimes relieve discomfort in mild cases. In more
severe cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications
and antihistamines may be prescribed. Some patients with
persistent allergic conjunctivitis may also require topical
steroid drops. Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually treated with
antibiotic eye drops or ointments that cover a broad range
of bacteria. Like the common cold, there is no cure for
viral conjunctivitis; however, the symptoms can be relieved
with cool compresses and artificial tears (found in most
pharmacies). For the worst cases, topical steroid drops may
be prescribed to reduce the discomfort from inflammation.
Viral conjunctivitis usually resolves within 3 weeks.
To avoid spreading infection, take these simple steps:
- Disinfect surfaces such as doorknobs and counters with
diluted bleach solution
- Donít swim (some bacteria can be spread in the water)
- Avoid touching the face
- Wash hands frequently
- Donít share towels or washcloths
- Do not reuse handkerchiefs (using a tissue is best)
- Avoid shaking hands