Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe
Inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eyeball is called conjunctivitis. When small blood vessels in the conjunctiva become inflamed, they become more visible. This is what causes the whites of your eyes to appear reddish or pink.
It is commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection, an allergic reaction, or in babies an incompletely opened tear duct. As irritating as it is, it rarely affects your vision. Treatment can help ease the discomfort. It can be contagious. People who wear contact lenses need to stop wearing them as soon as eye symptoms begin.
If your symptoms don’t start to get better within 12 to 24 hours, make an appointment with your eye doctor to make sure you don’t have a more serious eye infection related to contact lens use.
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Conjunctivitis can cause inflammation in the cornea that can affect vision. Prompt evaluation and treatment by your doctor can reduce the risk of complications. To reduce the risk of infecting other people, wash your hands frequently. Don’t share towels. In most cases, your doctor can diagnose conjunctivitis by asking questions and performing a physical examination. On rare occasions, your doctor may also take a sample of the liquid that drains from your eye for laboratory analysis (culture).
A culture may be needed if your symptoms are severe or if your doctor suspects a high-risk cause, such as a foreign body in your eye, a serious bacterial or sexually transmitted infection.
Most cases of pink eye are caused by a virus. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis can occur along with colds or symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as a sore throat. Wearing contact lenses that aren’t cleaned properly or aren’t your own can cause bacterial conjunctivitis. Both types are very contagious. One or both eyes may be affected.
Allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes and is a response to an allergy-causing substance such as pollen. If you have allergic conjunctivitis, you may experience intense itching, tearing and inflammation of the eyes – as well as sneezing and watery nasal discharge. Most allergic conjunctivitis can be controlled with allergy eyedrops. With irritation from a chemical splash or foreign object in your eye flush-ing and cleaning the eye may help.
Symptoms may include watery eyes and a mucous discharge, which usually clear up on their own.
Is usually focused on symptom relief. Your doctor may recommend using artificial tears, cleaning your eyelids with a wet cloth and applying cold or warm compresses several times daily. If you wear contact lenses, you’ll be advised to stop wearing them until treatment is complete. Your doctor will likely recommend that you throw out contacts you’ve worn if your lenses are disposable.
Disinfect hard lenses overnight before you reuse them. Ask your doctor if you should discard and replace lens accessories, such as the lens case. Also, replace eye makeup used before your illness. In most cases, you won’t need antibiotic eye drops. Since conjunctivitis is usually viral, antibiotics won’t help. Instead, the virus needs time to run its course – up to two or three weeks.
Viral conjunctivitis often begins in one eye and then infects the other eye within a few days. Your symptoms should gradually clear on their own. Antiviral medications may be an option if your doctor determines that it is caused by the herpes simplex virus. If the irritation is allergic conjunctivitis, your doctor may prescribe eye drops for people with allergies.
These may include medications that help control allergic reactions, such as antihistamines and mast cell stabilisers, or drugs that help control inflammation, such as decongestants, steroids and anti-inflammatory drops. Over-the-counter eye drops that contain antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications also may be effective.
The safest way to prevent spreading conjunctivitis when you are infected is to stay home or keep your child at home until the eye discharge has stopped. Most schools and child care facilities require that your child wait at least 24 hours after starting treatment before returning. Check with your doctor if you have questions about when your child can return to school or child care.
Conjunctivitis is no more contagious than the common cold. It’s okay to return to work, school or child care if you’re not able to take time off – just stay consistent in practising good hygiene. Newborns’ eyes are susceptible to bacteria normally present in the mother’s birth canal. These bacteria cause no symptoms in the mother. In rare cases, these bacteria can cause infants to develop a serious form of conjunctivitis known as ophthalmia Neona-torum, which needs treatment without delay to preserve sight. That’s why shortly after birth, an antibiotic ointment is applied to every newborn’s eyes