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Everything you need to know about conjunctivitis

Woke up to gooey eyelids this morning? It could be conjunctivitis.

What on Earth is that, you ask? It’s a common condition that involves inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is a thin membrane that lightly covers the whites of your eyes and the inside of your eyelids.

Due to its pink appearance, it is also known as ‘pink eye’, which you may be more familiar with.  

What causes it?

Hand covered in sand

Photo by Kunj Parekh on Unsplash

 The condition is usually caused by an allergy such as dust or a bacterial infection. The three most common types of conjunctivitis are bacterial, allergic and viral.

Bacterial

This form usually affects both your peepers and you’re likely to experience redness, sticky eyelids and a gritty, irritable feeling. It’s highly contagious and can spread easily, so it’s best to practice good hygiene, avoid contact with others and try not to share any hand towels.

Allergic

Open field with grass

Triggered by allergens such as pollen, dust or pets, this kind can be seasonal but for some it may occur all year round. It’s usually more common in people who already suffer with allergic conditions like asthma or hay fever. You’ll probably have red eyes and some itching.

Unlike bacterial or viral, this type is not contagious and so it cannot be passed from one person to another.

Viral

As the name suggests, this type is caused by different viruses. Adenovirus, which is usually responsible for your regular cold, is the most common virus triggering viral conjunctivitis.

Just like bacterial, it is extremely contagious. It can be spread through sneezing, coughing and contact with others.

This form is a sneaky one, however, as it can present itself with or without flu like symptoms (a sore throat or fever, for example) and in some cases it can cause your cornea to become infected.

If you’re experiencing viral conjunctivitis, then you’ll likely notice redness, excessive watery eyes, light sensitivity and discomfort. Your eyelids may be slightly swollen and if the infection has reached your cornea, you might be noticing blurred vision.

Can it be treated?

Bacterial conjunctivitis usually clears within a week, without any form of treatment. In some cases, you may require antibiotics (but not for the viral form). Viruses don’t respond well to treatment, and in most cases they generally resolve untreated.

You can relieve symptoms by using eye drops and ointments. Drops with antihistamines may also help with allergic conjunctivitis but your best bet is to probably remove yourself from the problem causing allergen.

Risk factors

You’re more likely to be at risk of infective (bacterial/viral) conjunctivitis if:

  • You’ve recently had a cold
  • You’re suffering with blepharitis
  • You have a weak immune system
  • You’ve been in close contact with someone with the condition

Top tips

Man washing his face with water

Photo by Tadeusz Lakota on Unsplash

Two common forms of conjunctivitis are highly contagious, so it’s important to wash and dry your hands thoroughly. It’s also best to not share towels or pillows with anyone experiencing the infection. Try not to rub or touch your eyes whilst the infection is present, and if you do, be sure to wipe down any surfaces you touch.

It goes without saying but it’s probably best to avoid contact lens wear and take a visit to your optician. They’ll be able to identify the type of conjunctivitis that you have and offer the best treatment advice.