Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelid. When irritated, the small blood vessels in the conjunctiva swell and cause the eye to redden.
The leading causes of conjunctivitis are viruses and bacteria. Allergens, chemical products and environmental irritants (smoke, pool chlorine, cosmetics) can also be sources of infection.
Typically, only one eye is affected. It is possible however, to infect the healthy eye with secretions from the infected eye. The following symptoms are generally present:
- Burning and gritty sensation
- Discharge (yellowish)
- Mild inflammation of the eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Sticking of the lids
If you suspect that you have conjunctivitis, consult your pharmacist. If the symptoms are mild, he or she will be able to suggest a treatment that does not require a prescription. You should however, consult a physician or an optometrist if:
- You have pain in your eye
- Your vision is blurred
- Your conjunctivitis is worsening
- Your conjunctivitis is recurring
- Your conjunctivitis lasts more than three days
Treatment is based on the cause of the conjunctivitis. Cold or warm compresses, three to four times a day can help relieve symptoms, regardless of the type of conjunctivitis. Compresses can also help remove the crust that may form on the eyelid. If the conjunctivitis is caused by a bacteria or a virus, it may go away on its own after 7 to 10 days. One can also apply ointment or antibiotic drops for a few days.
Conjunctivitis is contagious but propagation can easily be avoided. Hand washing is extremely important to avoid contagion. Sharing towels, face clothes, soap and pillowcases with an infected person is not recommended. These items should also be washed frequently to ensure that the infected person does not reinfect himself or herself. All eye make-up products that may have been contaminated should also be thrown away.