Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. Conjunctivitis, often called “pink eye,” is a common eye disease, especially in children. It may affect one or both eyes. Some forms of conjunctivitis can be highly contagious and easily spread in schools and at home. While conjunctivitis is usually a minor eye infection, sometimes it can develop into a more serious problem.
Conjunctivitis may be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It can also occur due to an allergic reaction to irritants in the air like pollen and smoke, chlorine in swimming pools, and ingredients in cosmetics or other products that come in contact with the eyes. Sexually transmitted diseases like Chlamydia and gonorrhea are less common causes of conjunctivitis.
People with conjunctivitis may experience the following symptoms:
The cause of conjunctivitis varies depending on the offending agent. There are three main categories of conjunctivitis: allergic, infectious and chemical
Chemical Conjunctivitis can be caused by irritants like air pollution, chlorine in swimming pools, and exposure to noxious chemicals.
Conjunctivitis can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. Testing, with special emphasis on evaluation of the conjunctiva and surrounding tissues, may include:
Using the information obtained from these tests, your optometrist can determine if you have conjunctivitis and advise you on treatment options.
Treatment of conjunctivitis is directed at three main goals:
The appropriate treatment for conjunctivitis depends on its cause:
Contact lens wearers may need to discontinue wearing their lenses while the conjunctivitis is active.Contact lens wearers may need to discontinue wearing their lenses while the condition is active. Your doctor can advise you on the need for temporary restrictions on contact lens wear.
If the conjunctivitis developed due to wearing contact lenses, your eye doctor may recommend that you switch to a different type of contact lens or disinfection solution. Your optometrist might need to alter your contact lense prescription to a type of lens that you replace more frequently to prevent the conjunctivitis from recurring.
Practicing good hygiene is the best way to control the spread of conjunctivitis. Once an infection has been diagnosed, follow these steps:
You can soothe the discomfort of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis by applying warm compresses to your affected eye or eyes. To make a compress, soak a clean cloth in warm water and wring it out before applying it gently to your closed eyelids.
For allergic conjunctivitis, avoid rubbing your eyes. Instead of warm compresses, use cool compresses to soothe your eyes. Over the counter eye drops are available. Antihistamine eye drops should help to alleviate the symptoms, and lubricating eye drops help to rinse the allergen off of the surface of the eye.
See your doctor of optometry when you experience conjunctivitis to help diagnose the cause and the proper course of action.