What Is Conjunctivitis (Pink eye)?

Conjunctivitis, more commonly known as "pink eye," is a very common disease. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, clear layer that covers the white surface of the eye and the inner eyelid. It is the most common cause of red eye. The sclera (white part) of the eye has fine blood vessel within it. When the conjunctiva becomes inflamed, these blood vessels enlarge and become more prominent, thus making the eye appear red.

There are three main types of conjunctivitis:

  • Infectious
  • Allergic
  • Chemical

Infectious conjunctivitis is usually caused by a virus or bacterial infection, is extremely contagious, and is usually associated with crusting or pus. Viruses are the most common cause of conjunctivitis. Allergies to pollen, cosmetics, or other materials can cause allergic conjunctivitis. The chemical type of conjunctivitis may be caused by irritants, such as, chlorine (in swimming pools), smoke, or fumes.

Symptoms of Conjunctivitis

The most common symptom of conjunctivitis is a red eye. Other symptoms include:

  • Discharge or crusting on eyelids
  • Watery eyes or excessive tearing
  • Sandy or scratchy feeling in the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye pain

Usually, conjunctivitis does not directly affect vision, but changes in vision may occur because of excessive watering or discharge.

Significant changes in vision should be brought to the attention of an ophthalmologist, as many other more serious conditions can cause symptoms similar to those of conjunctivitis.

Diagnosis of Conjunctivitis (Pink eye)

Often, a medical evaluation is important not only to confirm the diagnosis of conjunctivitis but also to determine the type of conjunctivitis present.

Treatment at Penn

Antibiotic eye drops or ointments treat infectious bacterial forms of conjunctivitis, whereas, chemical and allergic conjunctivitis are best treated by avoiding exposure to the irritant that is causing the inflammation. There are also medications available that can help relieve the discomfort associated with allergic and chemical conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis, which is the most common form, is not treatable by standard antibiotics. In most cases, viral conjunctivitis will clear itself after 10 to 14 days.

Good hygiene can help prevent the spread of infectious conjunctivitis. Practice good behaviors such as:

  • Keeping hands away from eyes
  • Frequent hand washing
  • Replacing eye make-up frequently
  • Do not share towels, eye make-up, handkerchiefs, or eye drops
  • Using care and good hygiene when using contact lenses

The prognosis for conjunctivitis is usually very good. However, certain forms can develop into more serious eye conditions that can harm the eye. Therefore, it is very important to have your condition diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

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