Dr. M. Vijayalakshmi, M.D (Peds), M.D (USA), F.A.A.P

"Content Source: Medical Journals and American Academy of Pediatrics"

Conjunctivitis is one of the most common eye infections in children and adults. Often called "pink eye," or ‘red eye’ it is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid.

Conjunctivitis can be caused by a virus, bacteria, irritating substances (shampoos, dirt, smoke, and especially pool chlorine), allergens (substances that cause allergies) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Red eye caused by bacteria, viruses, and STDs can spread easily from person to person, but is not a serious health risk if diagnosed promptly. The most common infections are caused by a virus or bacteria.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis ?
  • Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid
  • Itchy eyes (especially in conjunctivitis caused by allergies)
  • Burning eyes (especially in conjunctivitis caused by chemicals and irritants)
  • Greater amount of tears
  • Thick yellow discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially after sleep (in conjunctivitis caused by bacteria)
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Blurred vision

See your pediatrician, family doctor or ophthalmologist if you have any of these persistent symptoms. Ear infections also commonly occur in children who have bacterial conjunctivitis. The doctor will examine your eyes and possibly take a sample of fluid from the eyelid with a cotton swab. Bacteria or viruses that may have caused conjunctivitis can then be seen through a microscope.

How is conjunctivitis treated?
  • BacteriaConjunctivitis caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics, a type of medicine prescribed by your doctor. The antibiotic can be given as eye drops, ointments, or pills. The infection should improve within a week. Take the medicine as instructed by your doctor, even if the symptoms go away.
  • VirusMedicines cannot treat conjunctivitis caused by a virus. This type of conjunctivitis often results from a common cold. Just as a cold must run its course, so must this form of conjunctivitis, which will last upto 7 days. You may, however, help relieve symptoms by applying a cold compress.
  • Irritating substanceTo treat this type of conjunctivitis, use warm water for five minutes to wash the irritating substance from the eye. You should also avoid further exposure to the irritating substances. Your eyes should begin to improve within four hours after washing away the substance.
  • AllergiesAllergy-associated conjunctivitis should be evaluated by your ophthalmologist and an allergist.

It may disappear completely when the allergy is treated with antihistamines or the when the allergen is removed. Relieve symptoms temporarily by applying a cold compress on closed eyes.

Being around a person who has conjunctivitis and wearing contact lenses may increase your risk of getting conjunctivitis, but the outcome is usually very good with treatment. The eyes can become re-infected. Call your doctor if symptoms last for more than three days after treatment.

What can I do to help relieve symptoms?
  • Place cold compresses on your eyes.
  • Protect your eyes from dirt and other irritating substances.
  • Remove contact lenses, if you wear them.
  • Wash your face and eyelids with mild soap or baby shampoo and rinse with water to remove irritating substances.

How can I prevent spreading the infection?
  • Don’t touch or rub the infected eye(s).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
  • Wash any discharge from your eyes twice a day using a fresh cotton ball or paper towel. Afterwards, discard the cotton ball and wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  • Wash your bed linens, pillowcases, and towels in hot water and detergent.
  • Avoid wearing eye makeup.
  • Don’t share eye makeup with anyone else.
  • Never wear another person’s contact lens.
  • Wear glasses instead of contact lenses. Throw away disposable lenses or be sure to clean extended wear lenses and all eyewear cases.
  • Avoid sharing common articles such as unwashed towels, cups, and glasses.
  • Wash your hands after applying the eye drops or ointment to your eye or your child’s eye.
  • Do not use eye drops in a non-infected eye that were used for an infected one.

If your child has bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, keep him or her home from school or day care until he or she is no longer contagious.