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Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis, commonly known as "pink eye," is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids.

What Are Common Symptoms of Conjunctivitis?

  • Redness in one or both eyes
  • Itchiness in one or both eyes
  • Blurred vision and sensitivity to light
  • A gritty feeling in one or both eyes
  • A discharge in one or both eyes that forms a crust overnight
  • Tearing

Causes and Types of Conjunctivitis:

Causes of Conjunctivitis

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Allergies
  • Exposure of chemicals to the eye

Types of Conjunctivitis

  • Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis may affect one or both eyes. Viral conjunctivitis produces a watery discharge while bacterial conjunctivitis often produces a thicker, yellow-green discharge. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are associated with colds and are very contagious. Both children and adults can develop viral and bacterial conjunctivitis.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes and is a response to an allergen (an allergy-inducing substance), such as pollen or dust. The body produces an antibody to the allergen when exposure occurs. The binding of the allergen to the antibody on special immune cells, called mast cells, and trigger the release histamine. The body's release of histamine can produce a number of allergy symptoms, including redness, intense itching, tearing and inflammation of the eyes. Allergic conjunctivitis may also be accompanied by clear blisters on the sclera (whites of your eyes).
  • Irritation from a chemical burn or foreign object may also cause conjunctivitis. Discharge tends to be tears or mucus-like. Injuries involving organic chemicals, cleaning substances, metal or glass require an evaluation by a physician and should be treated immediately.

How Conjunctivitis is Treated?

  • If the infection is bacterial, antibiotic eye drops can be prescribed and the infection should clear within several days of starting treatment. Antibiotic eye ointment, in place of eye drops, is sometimes prescribed for treating bacterial pink eye in children. With either form of medicine, you should notice a marked improvement in signs and symptoms within one to two days. Be sure to use the medication as directed for the entire time it is prescribed to prevent recurrence of the infection.
  • Viral conjunctivitis cannot be treated with antibiotic drops or ointment. Like a common cold, you can use over-the-counter remedies to relieve some symptoms, but the virus must run its course. You may notice a worsening of symptoms in the first three to five days. Your signs and symptoms should gradually clear on their own. It may take up to two to three weeks for the infection to clear and applying lubricating drops or gels may help keep your eyes comfortable during this time. Occasionally, the cornea may become involved and require extended treatment.
  • If the irritation is allergic conjunctivitis, your doctor may prescribe one of several types of eye drops to relieve your symptoms. The use of antihistamines, steroids and other anti-inflammatory drops are common treatments for this form of conjunctivitis.
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