What is Conjunctivitis and its Symptoms?

Conjunctivitis is a very common condition. It won’t typically cause long-term damage, but it can be frustrating and uncomfortable.

When you have conjunctivitis, the clear tissue that covers the white area at the front of your eye (your conjunctiva) becomes inflamed. The symptoms differ depending on the cause so the eye may be:

  • watery or itchy
  • pink or red
  • sticky
  • swollen

Causes of conjunctivitis

There are two types of conjunctivitis, each one with a different cause:

  • Infective conjunctivitis – which is caused by common germs such as bacteria or viruses
  • Allergic conjunctivitis – this type of conjunctivitis is caused by an allergic reaction to a foreign substance, such as dust mites or pollen.

Conjunctivitis in children

New-born babies are prone to conjunctivitis thanks to a bacterial infection in the birth canal. It is known as neonatal conjunctivitis, and can be serious if not treated.

Older children on the other hand usually develop conjunctivitis as a result of a virus, bacteria or allergy. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be passed on from one person to another, so can spread between children easily. Allergic conjunctivitis however cannot be passed on as it is caused by an allergic reaction, such as pollen and dust.

Conjunctivitis Treatment

Depending on the cause, conjunctivitis usually clears up on its own within a couple of weeks without treatment. In some cases antibiotic eye drops, anti-allergy (antihistamine) medications, or lubricating eye drops in the case of a viral conjunctivitis, will be needed to treat the infection and ease the discomfort.

You can remove the watery or sticky discharge around your eye by using cotton wool and water. Make sure you wash your hands first, as any germs present on the skin will be transferred to the eye – causing further irritation.

If you are suffering with conjunctivitis, avoid wearing contact lenses until the symptoms have cleared up as this can cause further inflammation and discomfort. Try not to touch your eyes to help prevent the spread of the infection, and avoid sharing pillows and towels with anyone else.

Conjunctivitis usually doesn’t cause any long-standing problems, however you must seek medical attention immediately if you are suffering from the following:

  • Eye pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Intense redness in one or both eyes
  • Disturbed vision

If you have any concerns about the health of your eyes, please visit your local optometrist.