Your Questions Answered
By Dr Veerle Van Tricht
What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is an eye condition caused by infection or allergies and it usually gets better in a couple of weeks without treatment.
The conjunctiva is the thin clear tissue that lies over the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid.
Children get conjunctivitis a lot. It can be highly contagious (it spreads rapidly in schools and day care centres), but it’s rarely serious. It’s very unlikely to damage your vision, especially if you find it and treat it quickly.
What are the causes?
Several things could be to blame, including:
- Viruses, including the kind that causes the common cold
- Irritants such as shampoos, dirt, smoke, and pool chlorine
- A reaction to eye drops
- An allergic reaction to things like pollen, dust, or smoke.
- Or it could be due to a special type of allergy that affects some people who wear contact lenses.
- Fungi, amoebas, and parasites
How do I know if I have conjunctivitis?
Check if you have conjunctivitis:
It usually affects both eyes and makes them:
- Burn or feel gritty
- Produce pus that sticks to lashes
To diagnose conjunctivitis, your doctor will ask about the usual symptoms, such as burning, itchy eyes that discharge a thick, sticky mucus and tearing. The doctor will also observe that your eye is inflamed or red. Often, the cause can be determined from your symptoms, medical history, and the eye exam findings alone. Most of the time, treatment is started right away.
Treatment will depend on the cause of your conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis that includes itching and affects both eyes would suggest an allergy. Place a cool compress on your closed eye and use non-prescription allergy or antihistamine eye drops to relieve itching and burning. Find out how to use eye drops correctly by reading my blog
If the conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, it usually runs its course in one to three weeks. Because it is not caused by bacteria, viral conjunctivitis does not respond to antibiotics. It can also be highly contagious.
If it’s a bacterial infection you might be prescribed antibiotics. But these will not work if it’s caused by a virus (viral conjunctivitis) or an allergy.
Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause conjunctivitis. This type takes longer to clear up and should be treated as a serious infection.
Stop infectious conjunctivitis from spreading by –
- washing hands regularly with warm soapy water
- washing pillows and face cloths in hot water and detergent
- Discarding cosmetic eye products which may have been contaminated.
- Not wearing contact lenses
Do not –
- share towels and pillows
- rub your eyes
Get advice urgently if you experience:
- pain in your eyes
- sensitivity to light
- changes in your vision, like wavy lines or flashing
- intense redness in 1 eye or both eyes
- a baby less than 28 days old with red eyes
These can be signs of a more serious eye problem.
If you have any concerns regarding your sight, please don’t hesitate to contact me for advice.
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