Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is an eye condition that can cause discomfort in your eyes. What is it and how can it affect you? We will take a look at it in this article.
What is conjunctivitis?
Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the external layer of the white part of the eye, and the inner part of the eyelid. It makes the white of the eye become red, hence the name. This condition doesn't generally affect sight, although it can do so in very rare cases. However, even in these cases, the damage is not permanent.
What causes it?
There are three main causes of conjunctivitis:
- Viral: Caused by a virus. It could be accompanied by a cold or the flu and it happens when respiratory droplets, from a sneeze for example, reach the eye. Viral conjunctivitis is the most common cause of the condition in adults. It's very infectious.
- Bacterial: Can be caused by different types of bacteria in the eye. It's more common in children, although it can also accompany some sexually transmitted diseases. It's also very infectious so, in the case of children, it's advisable to seek medical help and allow some time off of school until the condition has improved.
- Allergic: There is an inflammation of the conjunctiva caused by allergens, such as pollen or dust mites. The allergen that triggers the inflammation changes from person to person and this type is not contagious.
Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis normally go away much faster than allergic conjunctivitis, which can, in rare cases, even turn into a chronic condition. Although these are the three main causes, conjunctivitis could also be caused by other factors such as an eye injury or the effects of certain chemicals on the eye.
As we already mentioned, conjunctivitis doesn't usually affect sight. Its symptoms, however, can make daily tasks harder to perform. These can be:
- Swelling of the eyelid and the conjunctiva
- The conjunctiva appears red instead of white
- Burning feeling
- Excessive tearing
- Discharge from the eyes. In the case of viral conjunctivitis, it appears clear and watery; while in the case of bacterial conjunctivitis it's thick and green, white or yellow in colour.
Conjunctivitis in most cases ends up simply a nuisance and can often pass within a few days. There is, however, a chance that complications might arise.
Sometimes conjunctivitis can cause an inflammation of the cornea that could affect your vision. If untreated, it could evolve into herpetic keratoconjunctivitis, a kind of corneal inflammation caused by the herpes virus, and potentially lead to blindness. Check with your eye specialist if you experience blurred vision, higher sensitivity to light or the feeling that you have something in your eye (foreign body sensation).
Conjunctivitis might have different treatments depending on what caused it:
- Viral conjunctivitis, in most cases, gets better on its own. Still, make sure to visit your doctor if you are experiencing severe symptoms. While it cannot be cured directly, its symptoms can be relieved. This will prevent major complications, such as those that can result from herpetic keratoconjunctivitis.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotics, which makes it among the easier forms of the condition to handle. It is very easy to spread, so having good hygiene is important.
- Allergic conjunctivitis is a bit trickier to treat, because it is harder to control the factors that trigger it. You will usually be prescribed eye drops which will reduce the strain on your eyes from the symptoms.
Conjunctivitis can be very annoying to deal with, but thankfully in the vast majority of cases it passes relatively quickly and has no lasting impact on your eyes.
Still, it is important to keep in mind that if the discomfort lasts long and there is no improvement in the symptoms within a few days, then you should definitely check with your eye specialist.