Conjunctiva is the thin, colorless, transparent layer of tissue that covers and protects the white part of the eye and the inner parts of the pink eyelids.
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or swelling of conjunctiva.
It is commonly known as ‘pink eye’, because the white part of the eye turns pink to red, due to the congestion (increased blood supply) following an infection.
Conjunctivitis is common in children and adults.
There are types of conjunctivitis, based on the underlying cause.
- Allergic conjunctivitis: It may occur in people with seasonal allergies, asthma, eczema and following an exposure to pollen, contact lenses in eyes for long time, presence of a foreign body in eyes, etc. It is not contagious. Most prominent symptom is severe itch in eyes, watery discharge, sneezing and can be associated with asthma, eczema, etc.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis: Commonly caused by staphylococci and streptococci bacteria. Poor personal hygiene by frequent contact of eyes with unclean hands, contaminated eye make-up, sharing of contact lenses, etc. are most common causes. Most prominent symptom is pus discharge, associated with an ear infection, etc. This is more common in kids than in adults.
- Viral conjunctivitis: Most contagious of all types, caused by viruses such as adenovirus. It may spread from air by coughing, sneezing and also accompany common cold, lung infection, etc. Discharge from eyes is watery, or slightly thick but usually not pus like.
- Chemical conjunctivitis: It may occur due to an exposure of eyes to chemicals, irritants such as smoke, fumes, dust, pollution, noxious chemicals, etc. It is not contagious.
Both eyes may be affected in allergic and chemical conjunctivitis.
- Itch, burning sensation in eyes.
- Watery eyes.
- Mucus discharge in allergic and chemical conjunctivitis.
- Redness in eyes.
- Swollen eyelids.
- Increased sensitivity to light.
- Discharge, pus from eyes, that may crust and make the eyelids stick on waking up in bacterial conjunctivitis.
A very good personal hygiene is the most important mode of preventing a pink eye.
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or a hand sanitizer, when around, after contact with someone with conjunctivitis, before and after handling contact lenses, etc.
- Avoid contact of unwashed hands with eyes with/without conjunctivitis. Cleaning eyes often with soft towels, tissues, washed hands, etc.
- Avoid sharing of personal items such as pillows, towels, eye make-up, contact lenses, spectacles etc. with others.
- Washing the personal items thoroughly in warm water after use daily.
- Discard any item used by someone with conjunctivitis, that may have got infected.
- Prompt treatment and self-care, when infected with conjunctivitis may help in avoiding the spread of infection to others.
Conjunctivitis is generally diagnosed by history of allergy, exposure to chemicals, irritants, infection etc. along with symptoms. Tests are not advised usually, unless the symptoms are severe and doesn’t respond to treatment.
Treatment is primarily focused on relief from the symptoms and discomfort and self-care to avoid spread to others.
Viral conjunctivitis may subside on its own in about 1-2 weeks with only symptomatic treatment.
- Warm compresses or cold compresses/ice packs on closed eye lids, whichever soothes the eyes better.
- Over the counter tear drops that may help in flushing out the discharge, foreign bodies from eyes, thus with the irritation.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses completely, until the infection, irritation subsides.
- Discard lenses, lens cases, etc. that are infected.
- Antibiotic eye drops may be needed when there is pus discharge caused by bacteria to treat the infection shorten it’s duration and to avoid complications and spread.
- Antihistamine (anti-allergy), steroid eye drops may help with some relief in allergic conjunctivitis.
– Dr. Divya Teja Pasupuleti