Conjunctivitis is swelling and irritation in the eye. It affects the tissue that covers the eye and lines the inner surface of the eyelid. This tissue is called the conjunctiva.
Eye with Conjunctivitis
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There are many causes of conjunctivitis including: Viral infection
Allergic reaction, usually related to
Chemical irritation caused by:
Air pollutantsSoapSmokeChlorineMake-upOther chemicals
Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious.
This condition is more common in children.
Factors that may increase your risk of conjunctivitis include: Contact with a person who has conjunctivitisSharing towels, linens, or other objects (even doorknobs) with an infected personExposure to chemical or environmental irritantsContact lenses
, especially if contacts are not cleaned and stored properly
Seasonal allergies or contact with known allergens
Symptoms include: Red, watery eyesSwollen inner eyelidsScratchy feeling in the eyesItchy eyesPus-like or watery dischargeSwelling of the eyelid
Conjunctivitis will usually clear up within 2-14 days. If conjunctivitis is caused by a seasonal allergy, it may continue throughout the season. If it is caused by a non-seasonal allergy, it may continue to occur year round.
These symptoms can sometimes indicate a more serious medical problem. If you develop these or any other symptoms, see your doctor.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. Your eyes will be examined. If there is discharge from your eye, it may be tested. The discharge will help find the cause of the conjunctivitis.
If you wear contacts, avoid wearing contact lenses until the conjunctivitis has cleared.
Treatment will depend on the cause of the conjunctivitis:
Antibiotic eye drops and/or ointment may be prescribed. These drops will help shorten the course of the infection. It will also decrease the amount of time it is contagious. Wipe away any discharge with a clean cotton ball before using the drops.
There is no medication to cure a viral infection. To help relieve discomfort consider: Applying warm compressesArtificial tears (found in pharmacies)
Avoid the cause of the irritation. Apply cool compresses to the affected area. You may be prescribed eye drops to help relieve allergic conjunctivitis.
If you have a bacterial or viral infection, follow these steps to prevent the spread of infection: Keep hands away from your face and do not rub your eyes.Change pillowcases and towels every night.Do not share pillows or towels.Wash hands frequently.Avoid shaking hands with others.Avoid swimming.Carefully clean away any discharge with warm water and clean cotton (or gauze) and immediately discard.
To decrease your chance of conjunctivitis: Do not share makeup or eye drops with anyone.Avoid sharing towels, washcloths, pillows, and handkerchiefs,Wash your hands frequently. Keep your hands away from your eyes.Clean contact lenses daily. Never sleep while wearing them unless advised to do so by your eye doctor.In case of allergic conjunctivitis, avoid the allergy causing substances and irritants.
Your doctor may recommend other prevention methods, depending on the cause.
Infectious conjunctivitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 6, 2014. Accessed September 15, 2014.
Pinkeye (conjunctivitis). American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at:
http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/eyes/Pages/PinkEye-Conjunctivitis.aspx. Updated September 2, 2014. Accessed September 15, 2014.
Review of Optometry.
Last reviewed September 2015 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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