Conjunctivitis is a common eye condition which causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, or the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye, and the inside of the eyelid. Conjunctivitis is often referred to as 'pink eye' or 'red eye'. It usually affects one eye initially before spreading to the other within a few hours. Symptoms include:-
Conjunctivitis is caused by one of three things. An allergic reaction, known as allergic conjunctivitis, bacterial or viral infection which is known as infective conjunctivitis or an irritant (such as shampoo) which is known as irritant conjunctivitis. Infective conjunctivitis can be caused by STIs such as chlamydia which may take several months to clear.
Your risk of conjunctivitis may be higher if you:-
Symptoms of conjunctivitis usually clear up within a week or two so treatment isn’t usually needed. Self-care such as a hot or cold compress can help alleviate symptoms until it improves on its own. However if you do need treatment the type will depend on the cause of the conjunctivitis.
Irritant Conjunctivitis will go away when the irritant is removed. If it is caused by shampoo or the chlorine in swimming pools an eye bath can alleviate symptoms by removing the irritant. If it is caused by an eyelash scratching your eye, once the eyelash is removed your eye should heal and become less sore.
Allergic conjunctivitis is usually treated with anti-allergy medications such as antihistamines and eye drops. To avoid future flare ups it is best to avoid the allergen as much as possible.
Bacterial conjunctivitis usually clears up by itself without treatment. If there is no improvement after approximately three days topical antibiotics may be needed as directed by your GP.
There can be some complications with infective or bacterial conjunctivitis, but these are usually only serious in premature babies. Possible complications include:-
Conjunctivitis can cause keratitis which is a condition which causes the cornea (front of the eye) to become swollen. This can cause pain, irritation, sensitivity to light and ulcers to form on the cornea. If left untreated these ulcers can cause scarring on the cornea and may permanently damage your vision.
Giant Papillary conjunctivitis can happen when contact lenses irritate your eyes or when the proteins in your tears bind to the surface of the contact lens. This causes itching, irritation, redness, mucus discharge and fluid sacs developing in the upper lining of the inner eyelid.
In newborn babies infective conjunctivitis can lead to a severe and quickly developing eye infection. Without treatment this can lead to damage to the child’s sight so it is very important to seek treatment as soon as possible. If your child is diagnosed with infective conjunctivitis you will be referred to a specialist for treatment. These complications are unlikely and most babies make a full recovery from infective conjunctivitis.
Conjunctivitis may be worse in the morning due to a build-up of discharge, this might make your eyes feel unpleasant and can cause your eyelids to stick together.
Conjunctivitis can be unpleasant and uncomfortable but should not be painful. If you experience eye pain this may be a sign of a more serious eye condition so you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Infective (bacterial or viral) conjunctivitis is very contagious if you come into contact with the bacteria. If you have infective conjunctivitis it is important to wash all pillow cases and face cloths in hot water with detergent and to make sure you wash your hands regularly. Allergic and irritant conjunctivitis are not contagious.