Conjunctivitis, commonly referred to as "pinkeye", simply means inflammation of the conjunctiva (the clear membrane that lines the inside of the eyelids and the white part of the eyeball).
Conjunctivitis can be broken down into the categories of:
- Infectious: either bacterial or viral - Very contagious!
- Noninfectious: allergic, chemical, trauma-related, foreign body-related.
What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis?
In viral conjunctivitis, there is generally a gritty or burning feeling in the eye or eyes. The eye may be red. One or both eyes can be affected. Viral conjunctivitis can occur in association with, or following a cold. There is usually early morning crusting, then watery drainage during the day. The worst symptoms are in the first 3-5 days, followed by gradual improvement.
- With bacterial conjunctivitis, early morning crusting may occur, but there will be continuous thick discharge throughout the day. The drainage can be white, green, or yellow. The affected eye will be red.
Allergic conjunctivitis is characterized by both eyes being involved initially, in most cases. The eyes can feel itchy and watery. The drainage is either watery, or can be white and stringy.
How is conjunctivitis treated?
The treatment of conjunctivitis will depend on the cause:
- Viral conjunctivitis: will get better over time, the same way a cold will. Warm or cool compresses may help. Over the counter Visine or similar eye drops may help decrease redness. Wash your hands frequently to reduce contagions.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis: is treated with antibiotic ointment or drops. Frequent handwashing will prevent the spread of the infection to others.
- Allergic conjunctivitis: is treated with over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops, such as Naphcon A or Vasocon A, or by prescription antihistamine/mast cell stabilizer eye drops.
Chemical and foreign body-related conjunctivitis: are treated with eyewash initially. Evaluation by an ophthalmologist is arranged as necessary.
Other measures: Change pillowcases and towels daily until the condition resolves, stop using eye makeup until the condition resolves (usually 5 days after treatment has begun), discard and replace eye makeup. Use warm compresses 4x/day for two minutes (each eye).
- Contact lens wearers: stay out of contact lenses until the eye is without redness for 24 hours for infectious conjunctivitis. In general, start with a new pair of contact lenses for disposable types of lenses.
- Eye pain: if eye pain, sensitivity to light, change in vision, or particular patterns of redness are present, the patient will be referred to an ophthalmologist.