What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis occurs due to the inflammation of the conjunctiva (a thin, transparent tissue that protects the white part of the eye and the inside of your eyelid). The conjunctiva is crucial for the proper functioning of your ocular health – it helps produce tears to keep your eyes moist. Conjunctivitis is also commonly called “Pink eye”.
During summer and spring, it is typical for the eyes to water due to the presence of pollen or other allergens in the air. When we experience allergies or come in contact with irritants, our eyes might start to change color. However, if the condition doesn’t go away sooner, it might develop into conjunctivitis.
What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis can be identified by one or more of the following conditions. However, it is necessary to consult with and get diagnosed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist before proceeding with treatment.
- Redness in one or both the eyes
- Swelling of conjunctiva
- Increase of tears
- Itching, pain, irritating/burning feeling in the eyes
- Sensation of foreign body presence
- Discharge from the eyes
- Crusting of eyelids/eyelashes in the morning
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Blurred vision
What are the causes of conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis develops as a result of a reaction to one or more of the following factors:
- Virus (adenoviruses)
- Bacteria (Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrhalis)
- Irritants (pool chlorine, detergent, shampoo, chemicals, perfume sprays etc.)
- Allergens (dust/dirt, smoke, pollen, fumes, mold etc.)
- Presence of allergic conditions (asthma, hay fever, eczema etc.)
- Foreign substances in the eye
- Medical substances (eyedrops, contact lenses, lens solution etc.)
- Fungi or parasites
- Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, or any sexually transmitted disease
How to treat conjunctivitis?
Consult an ophthalmologist or optometrist to help you identify the causes of an infection and treat it accordingly. In cases of negligence and delayed treatment, conjunctivitis can cause serious risks and lead to a potential loss of vision.
If one eye is infected, then it should be treated in a way that does not infect the other eye. If both eyes are infected, then washcloths used for one eye shouldn’t be used for the other to help reduce transmission.
Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis get cured within 7-14 days from the time of contract. However, antibiotics (for bacterial infection) and antiviral medications (for viral infection) may be prescribed for severe cases to prevent transmission and reduce the efficacy of symptoms. Allergic conjunctivitis can be treated with topical or oral antihistamines.
One of the immediate remedies for pink eye is to use a warm compress. Flush the infected eye with water. Soak a clean washcloth in warm water, wring it out, and apply it to the closed eyes.
How to control the spread of conjunctivitis?
Here are some ways conjunctivitis can spread:
- Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis is highly contagious when compared to conjunctivitis caused due to allergens or irritants.
- Viral conjunctivitis often spreads faster among children (from school and social activities).
- Viral conjunctivitis spreads primarily due to frequent hand-to-eye contact.
- If a person with bacterial infection or STD gives birth, then the newborn baby might contract conjunctivitis from the birth canal.
Medical practitioners counsel the following ways to avoid contracting conjunctivitis:
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
- Use hand sanitizers in the absence of soap and water.
- Avoid frequent hand-to-eye contact (especially rubbing of eyes).
- Wash bed linens, clothes, towels, and pillowcases after healing from an infection.
- In case of discharge, wash eyes with cold water and remove the discharge with a clean, wet cloth.
- Do not share the belongings that touched the eyes of an infected person.
- Do not wear contact lenses beyond the recommended period of time.
- In case of infection in one eye, have a separate set of things for the non-infected eye.
- Avoid eye makeup and any other contact with the area around the eyes for non-medical purposes.
- Do not go swimming until the infection is completely cured.(Even after the treatment, it is advised to wait at least 24 hours before swimming.)
Make sure to schedule regular visits with your ophthalmologist to maintain healthy eyesight throughout your life.