Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye. A clear, thin membrane called the conjunctiva covers your eyeball and the inside of your eyelids. If something irritates this covering, your eyes may become red and swollen. Your eyes also may itch or even hurt, and they may water.
Some common allergens include pollen from trees and grass, weed pollens and moulds; animal skin, fur and secretions such as saliva; perfumes and cosmetics and eye make up; skin medicines; air pollution and smoke. Grass pollens tend to cause symptoms in early summer. Various other pollens and moulds may cause symptoms later in the summer. In our city construction dust is a major cause of allergic conjunctivitis. The perennial form persists throughout the year and is usually triggered by dust mites. In some cases, use of mosquito-repellant liquids used in a closed room throughout the night can cause allergies and puffy eyelids.
Other causes of conjunctivitis are viral and bacterial infections.
Another form of conjunctivitis is Giant papillary conjunctivitis.
It occurs in some people who have a 'foreign body' on the eye - most commonly a contact lens. The exact cause of the inflammation is not known - it is possibly an allergic reaction to 'debris' on a contact lens or to poor lens hygiene. About 1 in 100 contact lens wearers develop this type of conjunctivitis.
What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis?
How to avoid getting the above symptoms?
- The eyes are usually itchy, and the whites of the eyes look red or pink.
- A burning feeling may occur and it may be painful.
- The eyelids tend to swell.
- The eyes can water as in allergic conjunctivitis or become 'gluey' as in infective conjunctivitis.
- Vision is not usually affected.
- In severe cases the conjunctiva under the upper eyelids may swell and look lumpy.
- It is a myth if you think that by staring into a red eye you will get one yourself!
- It is also a myth that a person wearing dark glasses when he/she has a red eye is enough protection from spreading the condition!
- When one person rubs the eyes, the germs get on the hands. From there, they spread to someone else's hands while sharing things such as doorknobs, towels etc. Hence the most important precaution whenever you are outdoors is never to rub your eyes since your hands have been all over the place! Wash your hands frequently, even a hand sanitizer will do.
Try to identify and avoid the allergens that cause your symptoms. For example, if you are allergic to pollen or mould, stay indoors when pollen and mould levels are high. Close windows, wear 'wrap around' sunglasses when out and use an air conditioner during the summer months.
- Conjunctivitis can also spread from one eye to the other, especially when you rub your eyes.
- Hence good hygiene of hands and face is important.
- There should be no sharing of face towels, especially if someone has conjunctivitis. People who suffer from conjunctivitis should have a special towel that only they use.
- Pus and crust should be removed by bathing the eye with lukewarm salt water that can also lessen the symptoms.
- Use disposable tissues when you dry the eyes and throw them away after use. This will limit the contamination.
- Dispose of any antibiotic eye drops after the treatment is over.
The person suffering from infective conjunctivitis must refrain from rubbing the eyes. If the urge to itch is strong, first the hands must be washed, then the eyes cleaned and the hands washed again with soap. It is important not to share soaps, towels etc.
- Bathing the eyes with a cloth soaked in cold water soothes the eyes.
- Depending on the type of conjunctivitis, eye drops that reduce inflammation and treat infection [antibiotic] are prescribed by your eye doctor.
- Steroid eye drops are rarely needed or used. Steroids are good at reducing inflammation. However, they should only be used under the supervision of an eye specialist as infection and other causes of conjunctivitis need to be definitely ruled out. Steroids can make some other eye conditions worse.
- Antihistamine tablets. You can take these in addition to the eye drops to ease the general symptoms of allergies.
- In general, do not wear contact lenses until symptoms have gone, and for 24 hours after the last dose of any eye drop or ointment.
- Lubricating eye drops (called artificial tears) may also make your eyes feel better. You can buy these drops without a prescription.