Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences
What Is Conjunctivitis?
You've probably had conjunctivitis and just didn't know it! It's commonly referred to as 'pink eye' because the symptoms cause the whites of your eyes to turn pink. Your eye is covered by a transparent membrane, called the conjunctiva, and conjunctivitis is the infection or inflammation of this membrane. The tiny blood vessels that feed this membrane become enlarged when they are infected and become more visible. This is what causes the whites of your eyes to appear pink. Conjunctivitis can be highly contagious, and it's commonly found in children (particularly bacterial conjunctivitis).
What Causes Conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is caused by a number of different eye infections. It can include a viral or bacterial infection, allergies, a foreign substance in the eye, or a blocked tear duct (in newborns). The most common form of conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, specifically an adenovirus, which commonly causes problems in the upper respiratory system.
Symptoms of Conjunctivitis
Symptoms vary slightly based on the cause. With viral conjunctivitis, the infection may affect one or both eyes and will usually result in a watery discharge. Bacterial conjunctivitis, in contrast, produces a thicker, yellowish-green discharge and may include mild pain and slight swelling of the eyelid. Both types are contagious.
Conjunctivitis caused by allergies affects both eyes and results in itching, tearing, redness, and swelling of the eyes. Conjunctivitis caused by a foreign object or substance in the eye results in a clear, watery discharge but usually clears up on its own in about a day.
None of these symptoms sound very fun, so how is conjunctivitis treated? Again, it depends on what type of conjunctivitis is wreaking havoc on the eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually treated with an antibacterial eye drop or eye ointment, which is thicker than a drop. Typically the antibacterial treatment will vanquish the infection within two to four days.
There is no treatment for viral conjunctivitis - as with most viral infections, the virus just has to run its course. Typically the infection spreads from one eye to the other and symptoms eventually clear up on their own, though they may last up to a couple of weeks. For allergic conjunctivitis, you may be prescribed anti-allergy medication or antihistamines; however, there is no 'cure' for allergic conjunctivitis. Finally, most foreign substances will clear on their own, but sometimes medical intervention is necessary.
So, what have we learned about conjunctivitis (aka pink eye)? We've learned that it's caused by an infection of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers the outer layer of your eye. When infected, the tiny blood vessels in the conjunctiva enlarge and become visible from outside the eye. They give the appearance of pink or reddened eyes.
Conjunctivitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection (both contagious), allergies, or due to a foreign substance or object being stuck in the eye. The symptoms you experience will vary based on the cause, but they typically include redness, itching, tearing, discharge, and sometimes pain. Treatment also varies based on the cause and may include eye drops or ointment, medication, or, in the case of viral infections, just letting the virus run its course.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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