Conjunctivitis is the term for an eye condition where the conjunctiva, a thin, clear layer covering the white of the eye as well as the inside of the eyelid, becomes inflamed or infected. This condition can be caused by a wide range of viruses, bacteria, or irritants. The most common cause of red eye is via irritants, such as soaps, body washes, and shampoos used while showering, or via allergens and irritants such as pollens and regular household dust.
Conjunctivitis caused by viruses and bacteria is most commonly referred to as pink eye and can spread from person to person, but is not a serious health risk if it is diagnosed promptly. Infants who contract conjunctivitis can experience vision impairment and vision loss if not promptly treated.
Symptoms of Conjunctivitis
Common symptoms of conjunctivitis include:
- Redness or pinkness in the white of the eye or inside of the eyelid
- A marked and noticeable increase in tearing and watering of the eyes
- In cases of bacterial infection, a yellowish discharge that can crust over the eyelid and eyelashes, especially after sleep
- Itching or a burning feeling on the front of the eye
- Blurred vision
- Inflamed eyelid near the eyelashes
- Increased light sensitivity
Treatment of Conjunctivitis
Treatment of conjunctivitis (pink eye) is often a course of antibiotics in the form of eye drops and/or oral medication. These eye drops need to be applied three to four times a day, under the eyelid, and a usual course is four to seven days. In cases of viral conjunctivitis, such as one associated with the common cold, the virus must run its course naturally. Eye drops to manage the symptoms and relieve the burning and itchiness associated with red eye are available in most pharmacies over the counter.
With allergy related conjunctivitis, antihistamines in the form of oral medication or eye drops is usually the only treatment needed. In cases where severe allergies are present, such as with nut based allergies, the conjunctivitis may need to be treated in a more serious manner, especially in cases such as accidentally rubbing nut oils into the eye after touching contaminated surfaces or foods. These types of reactions can be considered medical emergencies, as allergens introduced via the eye can very quickly spread to the rest of the body. If in doubt, and an epipen is present, use the epipen to treat the immediate symptoms of the allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock), and visit an emergency department immediately or call an ambulance.