Conjunctivitis Eye Infection

Also known as 'pink eye', conjunctivitis is a common eye problem but it can be treated and avoided altogether by taking the relevant precautions. Conjunctivitis can happen at any age but university students, school children, teachers and nursery workers are more susceptible because they are in close proximity with others.

If you want to know about the essentials of conjunctivitis, take a look at the following:

Explaining conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis happens when the thin, clear covering of the white of the eye that is inside an eye (sclera) and the eyelid (conjunctiva) becomes inflamed. Despite the conjunctiva being transparent, it does contain blood vessels that overlap the sclera. When an inflammation happens to the conjunctiva blood vessels that cause them to dilate, bloodshot eyes usually occur.

The causes of conjunctivitis

  • Viral conjunctivitis: Similar to the common cold, viral conjunctivitis is caused by a virus and is highly contagious. Although medical treatment can be prescribed, viral conjunctivitis can be gone after a couple of days without any medication
  • Allergic conjunctivitis: This type of conjunctivitis can be caused by many irritants such as animal dander. When animal dander is the cause of allergic conjunctivitis, it can happen year-round. Allergic conjunctivitis can be caused by temporary changes in the environment i.e. high pollen count.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: Caused by a virus, bacterial conjunctivitis can be responsible for considerable damage to your eye if it remains untreated.

The symptoms of conjunctivitis

A prime symptom of conjunctivitis is that the eye turns pink in colour but there are other symptoms which can also indicate it:

  • Viral conjunctivitis: Sensitive to light, eyes can become very watery and itchy. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious because it can be passed on by sneezing and coughing. Both eyes can be infected with viral conjunctivitis.

  • Allergic conjunctivitis: Eyes that are infected with this type of conjunctivitis are usually watery and very itchy. Eyes can also become sensitive to light and both eyes are affected but allergic conjunctivitis is not infectious.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: A discharge is produced in the corner of the eye that is sticky and either yellow or yellow-greenish. Bacterial conjunctivitis can cause the eyelids to stick together. It is highly infectious and you should wash your hands after touching your eye.

Boy with conjunctivitis

How to successfully treat conjunctivitis

How conjunctivitis is treated depends on what you have:

  • Viral conjunctivitis: As viral conjunctivitis can go naturally over a couple of days, medication isn't required. You can ease the discomfort of viral conjunctivitis by applying a damp flannel to your eye several times each day. When the flannel has been removed, it should be cleaned in a washing machine so that no-one else gets viral conjunctivitis.

  • Allergic conjunctivitis: Courtesy of allergy medications, this type of conjunctivitis can be treated. By taking allergy medications before allergy season begins, allergic conjunctivitis can be prevented.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: If you have bacterial conjunctivitis, your optician can prescribe ointments or antibiotic eye drops.

    Many other conditions can be caused by conjunctivitis such as blepharitis, dry eyes and eye infections. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be caused by major eye problems such as corneal ulcers which can ultimately result in permanent vision loss. As soon as you develop red and irritable eyes, you should schedule an eye exam with your optician. If you wear contact lenses, they should be removed and you must wear glasses until your optician has examined them.

How to prevent conjunctivitis

Here are nine ways to prevent yourself and your kids from getting conjunctivitis:

  1. Don't share flannels, hand towels and tissues.

  2. When sneezing, cover your nose. You should avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.

  3. Colour contact lenses or special effect contacts must never be shared with friends.

  4. By washing your hands, you won't pass on conjunctivitis. If you work closely with others, you should frequently wash your hands.

  5. Carry a bottle of hand disinfectant in your rucksack or purse.

  6. Ask your doctor about treating conjunctivitis before seasonal allergies begin.

  7. Follow your opticians' instructions about caring for your contact lenses and when to replace them.

  8. If you regularly go swimming, goggles can be worn to stop conjunctivitis being caused by micro-organisms and bacteria in the water.

  9. Contact lenses should be removed before having a shower so that bacteria cannot get inside your eyes and lenses.

Even if you follow each of these preventative measures, conjunctivitis can still happen. If you develop contagious conjunctivitis, do everything possible to limit infection. When your child has conjunctivitis, inform their teacher or nursery assistant. They should also be kept at home so that conjunctivitis doesn't spread to other children. Your optician can advise when conjunctivitis is no longer infectious.

When you believe that you only have a minor form of conjunctivitis, it is important that you should ask your optician either way because it could develop into a more serious condition.