Often referred to as pinkeye, conjunctivitis is inflammation of the thin membrane covering the whites of the eye and inner surface of the eyelid. It is a very uncomfortable, disruptive condition that can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, and can be either infectious or noninfectious in nature. Both types are relatively common, especially in children. Infectious conjunctivitis is also extremely contagious, making it very important to educate yourself on the condition.
Our trained professionals can help you understand conjunctivitis, including prevention and treatment for each individual case. Here’s a general overview about this troublesome eye complaint.
What causes conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis has three main causes: chemical, allergic and infectious. Any common irritants such as smoke, strong household cleansers, and chlorine can cause chemical conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis often coincides with other symptoms in patients who have known allergies, either seasonal or specific. The last type, infectious conjunctivitis, is caused by bacteria or a virus and is easily spread from person to person.
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms include: pink or red discoloration in the whites of one or both eyes, excessive tearing or discharge, swollen eyelids, blurry vision, pain, itching or burning, and a scratching sensation when you blink.
How is it diagnosed?
A thorough eye examination is needed to diagnose conjunctivitis. Careful observation of the eye structure and membranes under magnification can show the extent of the condition and if any damage has been done to delicate eye tissue. To pinpoint the cause, the patient’s history and symptoms need to be evaluated for any possible allergens or environmental irritants. In some cases, a culture of infected tissue may need to be taken.
How is it treated?
If the cause is allergen or chemical related, doctors may flush the eyes with saline to clear the irritant. For allergic conjunctivitis, they can prescribe an antihistamine to alleviate symptoms. Steroid eye drops may also be recommended for persistent cases. The treatment of infectious conjunctivitis varies greatly depending on if it is bacterial or viral. Bacterial cases will respond well to antibiotics, whereas viral infections will not. In most cases, viral conjunctivitis must be monitored but left to run its course much like a cold or flu. Prevention is critical, especially if you or someone you know has an infection. Always use proper hand washing techniques and avoid touching your eyes with unwashed hands. Don’t share items such as eye droppers, contact lens cases or eye makeup. Disinfect any pillowcases or face towels.
How can I relieve symptoms?
Cold or hot compresses on the affected eye can reduce some of the swelling and discomfort. If you wear contact lenses, switch to glasses until the condition has cleared as they may worsen symptoms and spread infection. In severe infections, steroid eye drops may be prescribed to ease inflammation.
If you are experiencing symptoms that may point to conjunctivitis, it’s recommended that you see an eye doctor as soon as possible. New Jersey Eye Center offers specialized eye care services right in Bergen County. We offer complete eye exams to diagnose the underlying cause of conjunctivitis so you can receive the best treatment to ease symptoms and speed healing.