What Causes Conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis has a number of different causes, including:
- Bacteria (such as gonorrhea or chlamydia)
- Irritants such as shampoos, dirt, smoke, and pool chlorine
- Allergies, like dust, pollen, or a special type of allergy that affects some contact lens wearers
Conjunctivitis caused by some bacteria and viruses can spread easily from person to person, but are not a serious health risk if diagnosed promptly.
What Are the Symptoms of Conjunctivitis?
The symptoms of conjunctivitis differ based on the cause of the inflammation, but may include:
- Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid.
- Increased amount of tears.
- Thick yellow discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially after sleep.
- Green or white discharge from the eye.
- Itchy eyes.
- Burning eyes.
- Blurred vision.
- Increased sensitivity to light.
See your eye doctor if you have any of these symptoms of conjunctivitis. He or she will conduct an exam of your eyes and may take a sample of fluid from the eyelid using a cotton swab to be analyzed in a microbiology lab. Bacteria or viruses that may have caused conjunctivitis, including a sexually transmitted disease or STD, can then be identified and proper treatment prescribed.
How Is Conjunctivitis Treated?
The treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause.
What Can I Do to Relieve Symptoms of Conjunctivitis?
- Bacteria. Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria, including STDs, is treated with antibiotics, in the form of eye drops, ointments, or pills. Eye drops or ointments may need to be applied to the inside of the eyelid three to four times a day for five to seven days. Pills may need to be taken for several days. The conjunctivitis should improve within a week. Take the medicine as instructed by your doctor, even if the symptoms of conjunctivitis go away.
- Viruses. This type of conjunctivitis often results from the viruses that cause a common cold. Just as a cold must run its course, so must this form of conjunctivitis, which usually lasts from 4 to 7 days.
- Irritants.For conjunctivitis caused by an irritating substance, use water to wash the substance from the eye for five minutes. Your eyes should begin to improve within four hours after washing away the substance. If the conjunctivitis is caused by acid or alkaline material such as bleach, call your doctor.
- Allergies. Allergy-associated conjunctivitis should improve once the allergy is treated and the allergen removed. See your doctor if you have conjunctivitis that is linked to an allergy.
To relieve the symptoms of conjunctivitis:
How Can I Prevent Spreading Conjunctivitis?
- Protect your eyes from dirt and other irritating substances.
- Avoid the use of makeup.
- Remove contact lenses, if you wear them.
- Non-prescription "artificial tears," a type of eye drops, may help relieve itching and burning from the irritating substances causing your conjunctivitis. However, other types of eye drops may irritate the eyes and should not be used. Note: Do not use the same bottle of drops in an uninfected eye.
If you or your child has conjunctivitis:
What Are the Complications of Conjunctivitis?
- Don't touch or rub the infected eye(s).
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
- Wash any discharge from your eyes twice a day using a fresh cotton ball or paper towel. Afterwards, discard the cotton ball or paper towel and wash your hands with soap and warm water.
- Wash your bed linens, pillowcases, and towels in hot water and detergent.
- Avoid wearing eye makeup.
- Don't share eye makeup with anyone.
- Never wear another person's contact lenses.
- Wear eyeglasses instead of contact lenses. Throw away disposable lenses or be sure to clean extended wear lenses and all eyewear cases.
- Avoid sharing common articles such as unwashed towels and glasses.
- Wash your hands after applying the eye drops or ointment to your eye or your child's eye.
- Do not use eye drops in a non-infected eye that were used for an infected one.
- If your child has bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, keep your child home from school or day care until he or she is no longer contagious.
Usually, conjunctivitis is a self-limited disease, either clearing up on its own or after a course of antibiotics, however, certain forms of conjunctivitis can become serious and become sight-threatening. They include conjunctivitis caused by gonorrhea or chlamydia.
How Can I Avoid Getting Conjunctivitis?
Infective conjunctivitis is highly contagious, therefore, there is no surefire way to avoid getting it. However, maintaining proper hygiene should minimize transmission. With regards to allergic conjunctivitis, avoiding allergens and taking proper care of your contact lenses can help reduce your risk. If someone in your household has conjunctivitis, be sure to wash your hands often and thoroughly. Avoid sharing washcloths, towels, pillowcases, mascara or eyeliner with them.