What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis, also called pink eye, is an infection that causes inflammation of the lining of your eyelid called the conjunctiva or the transparent membrane.  The conjunctiva covers the whites of  your eyes.

They eyes seem to be pink or red because the small blood vessels become inflamed.  It is usually caused by a viral infection but can also be the result of an allergic reaction.  It is irritating and can be quite contagious.

What are the Symptoms of Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis may occur in only one eye or in both eyes.

Symptoms include

It may cause itchiness or it may feel like there is something in your eye.  Pink or redness in the whites of the eye may occur and you may find that your eyes water. In the morning you may find a crust forms around your eyes that makes them difficult to open.  This is the result of a discharge that may occur as a symptom of conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis Causes

Common causes of conjunctivitis are viral viruses, bacteria or allergies. Sometimes, accidents occur with chemicals or particles entering the eye. Newborns sometimes have a blocked tear duct causing this condition.

The condition is contagious – neglecting to clean your own contact lens or using a set that belongs to someone else can transport bacterial infections contributing to conjunctivitis. Dispensing eye drops into someone’s infected eyes without washing your hands can transfer the germs also.

Allergies leading to conjunctivitis, including substances such as pollen and dust particles, may affect the eyes. You body’s defense is to release histamines causing a hypersensitive reaction from watery, itching and inflamed eyes.

How is Conjunctivitis Treated?

Treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause.

Treatment includes

For bacterial conjunctivitis or viral conjunctivitis, treatment is not usually necessary as it will clear up on its own within about two weeks.  Doctors may prescribe an antibiotic to speed up the process.  If conjunctivitis is due to the herpes simplex virus, an antiviral medication may be prescribed. Conjunctivitis that is the result of an allergy can be treated with eye drops to control the reactions from the allergy and to control inflammation.  This can include antihistamines, steroids, and decongestants.

Conjunctivitis Prevention

Conjunctivitis is not life threatening, but it can be inconvenient. The best prevention of conjunctivitis is avoidance and good hygiene. If you have the ailment, avoid touching your face since the virus or bacteria can enter through the eyes, nose or mouth.

Always wash your hands with soap and water and never share your contacts. Talk with your doctor, they may ask that you do not wear your contact lenses until the infection heals. If you are wearing glasses, clean the lens to make sure they are not contaminated.

Try not to touch or rub your eyes, it only aggravates the condition. Read the instructions on the dispenser bottle before treating your eyes with the drops. It is crucial not to allow the tip of the bottle to make contact with your eye. Also, wash bed linens regularly until the virus is gone. If your child has the condition, talk with your doctor about returning to school, since it is contagious.

Wash or replace your eye make-up brushes and discard your mascara as they may have been exposed to your eyes and will carry the germs.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
December 08, 2017