Conjunctivitis is an infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, transparent membrane covering the surface of the inner eyelid and the front of the eye. The conjunctiva has many small blood vessels. It lubricates and protects the eye. When the conjunctiva becomes inflamed, this is called conjunctivitis. There are many causes of conjunctivitis. The most common forms are bacterial and viral.
Bacterial conjunctivitis typically causes swelling of the eyelid and a yellowish discharge. Sometimes it causes itching and/or matting of the eyelids. It can be accompanied by a sty.
Viral conjunctivitis, also known as EKC or epidemic kerato-conjunctivitis, is very contagious and can be easily transmitted by rubbing the eye and then infecting household items such as towels or handkerchiefs. It is common for entire families to become infected.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis:
- Red, watery eyes
- Inflamed eye lids
- Blurred vision and a sandy or scratchy feeling in the eyes
- Pus-like or watery discharge around the eyelids
- Matting of the eyelids
- Possible swollen gland in front of the ear
How can conjunctivitis be prevented?
Certain precautions can be taken to avoid the disease and stop its spread. Careful washing of the hands, cutting hair so it does not contact the eyes, and avoiding contagious individuals are all helpful. Children frequently get conjunctivitis because of their their close contact with other children while in school.
If you or someone in your household has contracted conjunctivitis, follow these steps to prevent the spread of the infection:
- Do not touch the infected eye.
- If you do touch your eyes or face, including when using medicine in your eye(s), wash your hands thoroughly.
- Wash any clothing touched by infected eyes including clothes, towels and pillowcases.
- Do not share make-up or eye drops. If the infection is caused by bacteria or a virus, you must throw away your used make-up or contact lens solution and buy new make-up or solution.
The doctors at Karlik Ophthalmology can diagnose the type of conjunctivitis with a careful case history and eye exam. A medical history will also be taken because some conjunctivitis is caused by underlying disease conditions like herpes or the flu.
Treatment for conjunctivitis:
Antibiotic drops and compresses can ease discomfort and clear up most bacterial infections, normally within just a few days. Sometimes, the inflammation does not respond well to the initial treatment with eye drops. In those cases, additional medication may be prescribed. Keep all follow-up visits with your doctor. If left untreated, conjunctivitis can create serious complications such as infections in the cornea, eyelids and tear ducts.
There are no effective treatments for some forms of conjunctivitis like viral EKC mentioned above. In this case your doctor will prescribe a regimen to make you more comfortable, but the viral condition will need time to resolve on its own.