What is Conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is an eye problem in which the conjunctiva, which is the mucous membrane that covers the eyelid and the white part of both eyes, becomes inflamed. There are two main types of Conjunctivitis, or pink eye as it is more commonly referred to. The first results from a bacterial or viral infection and the other results from an allergic reaction.
The infective form of Conjunctivitis, if it’s caused by bacteria, is highly contagious with the hands being the primary vehicle for transmission. Conjunctivitis that results from an allergic reaction is typically a seasonal condition as are most allergies.
Conjunctivitis can also result when a person is sensitive to certain facial products and cosmetics. This latter form is sometimes referred to as irritant Conjunctivitis. Allergic and irritant Conjunctivitis are not contagious.
Symptoms of Conjunctivitis
The symptoms of the infective form of Conjunctivitis include discharge that is watery or sticky, eyes that water and feel gritty, and eyes that feel as if they have been glued together upon waking. Mild soreness is sometimes a symptom. The part of the eye that is normally white will also become red or pink, which is why Conjunctivitis has earned the nickname ‘pink eye’. Because Conjunctivitis often develops along with a common cold, a person may also have symptoms of a cold including runny nose, mild fever and a sore throat.
With the allergic form of Conjunctivitis, eyes are itchy and the eyelids may appear puffy. There may also be a discharge from the eyes that appears white or watery or ropy.
Who is at risk?
Anyone is at risk of getting Conjunctivitis. Because it can be contagious, a person with Conjunctivitis needs to take measures not to spread it. It’s difficult because it is normal to rub the infected eye as a way of providing temporary relief. However, if hands are not washed afterwards and the cause is bacterial, the bacteria can be transferred to another individual by coming into contact with the infected hands.
People who have a history of allergies, particularly hay fever, are at increased risk of developing the allergic form of conjunctivitis.
Infective Conjunctivitis with its notable pink eye often will accompany a common cold making this eye problem rather easy to identify. Likewise a person with known allergies knows whether or not he has allergic Conjunctivitis.
Treatment for infective Conjunctivitis that is caused by bacteria includes the application of antibiotic ointment or antibiotic drops. If it is caused by a virus, typically the condition is left to heal on its own, much like a cold. Generally however, it is difficult to determine whether infective Conjunctivitis has resulted from bacteria or a virus so oftentimes, no treatment is prescribed.
In either case it is important to wash hands after coming into contact with the infected eyes using warm water and soap. Those with infective Conjunctivitis should not share their towels or pillows with others. Also when Conjunctivitis is present, contact lenses should not be worn until it has cleared.