Conjunctivitis

Baltimore Washington Eye Center, Maryland

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the very thin membrane that covers the inside of your eyelids and the white part of your eye (the sclera). It is most commonly referred to as “red” or “pink” eye and can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, allergies or environmental irritants. Symptoms of conjunctivitis include:
  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Increased tearing
  • Soreness of the eye
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Itchiness of the eye
  • Excess mucous (pus)
  • Crusting of the eyelashes in the morning
Viral conjunctivitis is much more common than the bacterial kind. It may last several weeks and is frequently accompanied by a respiratory infection (or cold). Antibiotic drops or ointments usually do not help, but symptomatic treatment such as cold compresses or over-the-counter decongestant eye drops can be used while the infection runs its course.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is less common and characterized by considerable amounts of pus. Some bacterial infections are more chronic, however, and may produce little or no discharge except for some mild crusting of the eyelashes in the morning. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with a variety of antibiotic eye drops or ointments. These treatments usually cure the infection in a day or two.

Another kind of conjunctivitis is caused by allergies and often occurs in spring and fall. Itchy eyes are common with this variety, but can be treated with eye drops. It is important, however, to not use medications that contain steroids unless prescribed by an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.). Names of steroids usually end in “-one” or “-dex.”

Conjunctivitis caused by a virus can be very contagious. If you have been diagnosed with viral conjunctivitis or suspect you might be suffering from this condition, practicing good hygiene can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis if you are infected. You should:
  • Avoid re-using handkerchiefs and towels to wipe your face and eyes
  • Not share towels, pillowcases or makeup
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes
  • Replace your eye cosmetics regularly
  • Properly clean your contact lenses
  • Stay out of swimming pools and consider staying home from school or work
Regardless of the cause, conjunctivitis should not cause a disruption in vision. More serious conditions, such as damage to the cornea, very severe glaucoma or inflammation inside the eye can also cause the conjunctiva to become inflamed and pink. If your case of “pink eye” affects your vision or you experience eye pain, you should see an ophthalmologist.

Dr. Brad V. Spagnolo, M.D. with the Baltimore Washington Eye Center