News / South Africa / Health
Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe
Conjunctivitis is inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eyeball.
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.
Treatments can help ease the discomfort of the inflammation. It can be contagious, therefore early diagnosis and treatment can help limit its spread.
There are serious eye conditions that can cause eye redness. These conditions may cause eye pain, a feeling that something is stuck in your eye (foreign body sensation), blurred vision and light sensitivity.
People who wear contact lenses need to stop wearing their contacts as soon as 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.
In both children and adults, conjunctivitis can cause inflammation in the cornea that can affect vision. To reduce the risk, wash your hands frequently to lessen the chance of infecting other people. Don’t share towels with other people for the same reason.
In most cases, your doctor can diagnose conjunctivitis by asking questions about your symptoms and recent health history and performing a physical examination of your eyes. In 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 infection or a sexually transmitted infection.
The most common conjunctivitis symptoms include:
Causes of pink eye include:
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. They are spread through direct or indirect contact with the liquid that drains from the eye of someone who’s infected.
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.
Irritation from a chemical splash or foreign object in your eye is also associated with conjunctivitis. Sometimes, flushing and cleaning the eye to rid it of the chemical or object causes redness and irritation. Signs and symptoms, which may include watery eyes and a mucous discharge, usually clear up on their own within about a day.
Conjunctivitis treatment 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.
If you wear contact lenses, you’ll be advised to stop wearing them until treatment is complete. Your doctor will recommend that you throw out contacts you’ve worn if lenses are disposable.
Disinfect hard lenses overnight before you reuse them. Ask your doctor if you should discard and replace your contact lens accessories, such as the lens case used before or during the illness. Also replace any eye makeup used before your illness.
In most cases, you won’t need antibiotic eyedrops. Since conjunctivitis is usually viral, antibiotics won’t help and may even cause harm by reducing their effectiveness in the future or causing a medication reaction. 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
Antiviral medications may be an option if your doctor determines that your viral conjunctivitis is caused by the herpes simplex virus.
If the irritation is allergic conjunctivitis, your doctor may prescribe one of many different types of 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.
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