Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, transparent layer that lines the inner eyelids and covers the white part of the eye. The three main types of conjunctivitis are infectious, allergic and toxic.
Common symptoms of conjunctivitis are red watery eyes, inflamed inner eyelids, blurred vision, a scratchy feeling in the eyes and, sometimes, a pus like or watery discharge. Severe conjunctivitis can harm your vision so you should see your optometrist promptly for diagnosis and treatment.
Infectious conjunctivitis, bacterial or viral, may be in one eye only and very contagious.
Infectious conjunctivitis caused by bacteria is usually associated with a stick, coloured discharge and lids stuck together on waking. It can be treated with antibiotic eye drops and ointment.
Other forms of the condition, such as those caused by viruses, are usually associated with watery, clear discharge and a foreign body sensation. They cannot be treated with antibiotics but may be relieved by using drops prescribed by your optometrist and must be fought off by your body's immune system.
To control the spread of infectious conjunctivitis, you should keep your hands away from your eyes, and thoroughly wash your hands before applying eye medications. Do not share towels, face washers, cosmetics, pillows and eye drops with others.
Allergic conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes and is not contagious.
It is usually associated with an airborne agent, such as some pollens, cosmetics, animals or fabric, which causes irritation. Your body's reaction may cause a swelling of the conjunctiva, which is a thin, glandular membrane.
It can occur alone bur is often in conjunction with nasal allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, sniffling and a stuffy nose, which may be eased by using tablets from the pharmacist.
Toxic conjunctivitis may occur in one eye and is not contagious.
There is usually immediate irritation after exposure. The eye requires flushing, preferably with fresh water, for at least several minutes in the case of exposure to a chemical.
Irritants like air pollution, noxious fumes and excessive chlorine in swimming pools may produce toxic conjunctivitis, as can excessive use of some eye drops. In the workplace, acid and cleaning chemicals may be the cause.
If you have allergic or chemical conjunctivitis, it is important to consult your optometrist. If the cause of your problem can be identified, you should try to avoid it. In the case of allergic conjunctivitis, successful management should centre on prevention or avoidance of the allergens that trigger your symptoms.
If these measures do not help to resolve your conjunctivitis, your optometrist can recommend or prescribe eye drops that will help to relieve discomfort.