Conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye,” is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that lines the inside of the eyelids and covers the white part of the eye. Symptoms may include redness of the eye, blurred vision, crust that forms on the eyelid overnight, eye pain, a gritty feeling in the eyes, increased tearing, itching of the eyes and sensitivity to light.
Viruses are the most common cause of conjunctivitis. The swelling may begin in one eye and progress to the second eye within days.
Bacterial conjunctivitis, which may also begin in one eye and progress to the other, is a leading cause of absence from daycare and school. Cases may last as few as two to three days or up to three weeks.
Allergic conjunctivitis usually occurs in both eyes and tends to occur more frequently among children with other allergic conditions, such as hay fever, asthma and eczema. It improves when the allergic trigger is removed from the child’s environment.
Conjunctivitis may also be caused by chemicals, fungi, certain diseases, foreign elements in the eye, air pollution and contact lenses, especially if worn overnight.
Conjunctivitis can be diagnosed from signs and symptoms and a thorough patient history. Although not routinely done, your doctor may take a swab of the conjunctiva and send it to a lab for analysis.
Treatment depends on the cause. Allergic conjunctivitis may respond to allergy treatment or disappear on its own by avoiding allergy triggers. Viral conjunctivitis is usually mild and clears up in seven to 14 days without treatment. Many doctors prescribe antibiotic eye drops to treat bacterial conjunctivitis and to prevent bacterial conjunctivitis from developing.
Warm compresses help soothe the discomfort of viral and bacterial conjunctivitis. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis can spread quickly and result in epidemics.
Good hygiene can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis: change pillowcases frequently, keep hands away from your eyes, replace eye cosmetics regularly, wash your hands often and don’t share eye cosmetics, towels or handkerchiefs.
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