What is conjunctivitis or "pink-eye"?

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the surface (conjunctiva) of the eyes. The white part of the eyes appears red or "pink", hence the common name "pink-eye". Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by adenovirus, the same virus that causes the common cold. It can also be caused by certain types of bacteria, such as staphyloccal and streptococcal species. Conjunctivitis can also be due to allergy to environmental substances or medications.

What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis causes one or both eyes to look red or pink from the inflammation, with watery or yellowish discharge. There may be some mild discomfort as if there is something in the eyes. Vision is sometimes slightly blurry because of tearing. Allergic conjunctivitis is very itchy, compared to the other types of conjunctivitis.

How is conjunctivitis treated? How long does it last?

Most cases of conjunctivitis are caused by virus and clear up without any treatment within a few weeks. Viral conjunctivitis is treated symptomatically with rest, good hydration, and cool compresses applied to the eyes to dampen the inflammation. Steroid eye drops are occasionally used to treat this condition, if there is a significant and persistent inflammation. If bacterial conjunctivitis is suspected, a swab may be taken (to test for bacteria) and antibiotic drops can be used to clear it up within a few days. Allergic conjunctivitis is treated by removing the allergen and using antihistamine or steroid drops. Whenever steroid drops are used, eye pressure must be checked since these drops can sometimes cause glaucoma if used for longer than a couple of weeks.

Is conjunctivitis infectious?

"Pink eye" or viral conjunctivitis is infectious for at least 10 days to 2 weeks. It is recommended to wash your hands regularly when you have this condition, use your own towels at home and take time off work or school for at least 10 days. Bacterial conjunctivitis is also contagious, but once treatment is started, it usually clears up within a few days. The same precautions apply.

Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.

Will conjunctivitis damage my vision?

Most common types of conjunctivitis will cause slightly blurry vision because of tearing and discharge. If you think your vision is being affected more than just slightly, you may have something more than just conjunctivitis. You should visit your Optometrist or local emergency department to be checked.

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