What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is inflammation of your conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin tissue that covers the front of your eye and the back of your eyelids. The conjunctiva helps protect your eye and keep it moist.
What causes conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is easily spread from person to person. The most common cause of conjunctivitis is infection with bacteria or a virus. This often happens when bacteria are introduced to your eye. For example, this can happen when you touch your eye or wear contact lenses. Allergies are also a common cause of conjunctivitis. The cells in your conjunctiva can react to an allergen. Some examples of allergens include grass, dust, animal fur, or mascara.
What are the signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis?
You will usually have symptoms in both eyes if your conjunctivitis is caused by allergies. You may also have other allergic symptoms, such as a rash or runny nose. Symptoms will usually start in 1 eye if your conjunctivitis is caused by a virus or bacteria. You may also have other symptoms of an infection, such as sore throat and fever. You may have any of the following:
- Redness in the whites of your eye
- Itching in your eye or around your eye
- Feeling like there is something in your eye
- Watery or thick, sticky discharge
- Crusty eyelids when you wake up in the morning
- Burning, stinging, or swelling in your eye
- Pain when you see bright light
How is conjunctivitis diagnosed?
Your caregiver will ask about your symptoms and medical history. He will ask if you have been around anyone who is sick or has pink eye. He will ask if you have allergies. Tell him if you wear contact lenses. You may need any of the following:
- Eye exam: Your caregiver will look at your eyes, eyelids, eyelashes, and the skin around your eyes. He will ask you to look in different directions. He may gently press on your eye or eyelid to see if there is discharge. He will also look for redness and swelling in your eyelids or conjunctiva. Your caregiver may gently swab your conjunctiva with a cotton swab and send it to the lab for tests. This will help your caregiver find out what is causing your conjunctivitis.
- Slit-lamp microscope: Your caregiver will use a special microscope with a bright light to look into your eye. He will look for signs of infection or inflammation. This microscope also helps your caregiver see if the different parts of your eyes are healthy.
How is conjunctivitis treated?
Your conjunctivitis may go away on its own. Treatment depends on what is causing your conjunctivitis. You may need any of the following:
- Allergy medicine: This medicine helps decrease itchy, red, swollen eyes caused by allergies. It may be given as a pill, eye drops, or nasal spray.
- Antibiotics: You may need antibiotics if your conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria. This medicine may be given as a pill, eye drops, or eye ointment.
- NSAIDs: This medicine may decrease swelling and pain. NSAIDs may also help prevent conjunctivitis from spreading to your other eye. This medicine can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. Always read the medicine label and follow the directions when you use this medicine.
- Steroid medicine: This medicine helps decrease inflammation. It may be given as a pill, eye drops, or nasal spray.
How can I manage my symptoms?
- Apply a cool compress: Wet a washcloth with cold water and place it on your eye. This will help decrease swelling.
- Use eye drops: Eye drops, or artificial tears, can be bought without a doctor's order. They help keep your eye moist.
- Do not wear contact lenses: They can irritate your eye. Throw away the pair you are using and ask when you can wear them again. Use a new pair of lenses when your caregiver says it is okay.
- Flush your eye: You may need to flush your eye with saline to help decrease your symptoms. Ask for more information on how to flush your eye.
How do I prevent the spread of conjunctivitis?
- Wash your hands often: Wash your hands before you touch your eyes. Also wash your hands before you prepare or eat food and after you use the bathroom or change a diaper.
- Avoid allergens: Try to avoid the things that cause your allergies, such as pets, dust, or grass.
- Avoid contact: Do not share towels or washcloths. Try to stay away from others as much as possible. Ask when you can return to work or school.
- Throw away eye makeup: Throw away mascara and other eye makeup.
What are the risks of conjunctivitis?
You may have a burning, itching, or stinging feeling in your eye when you use eye drops or ointment. Your eye medicine may cause your symptoms, such as eye swelling, to get worse. Your eyes may become sensitive to light. Without treatment, you may get scars or sores in your eye. The swelling in your eye can cause your eyesight to get blurry. You may lose vision completely. The bacteria may spread to other parts of your eye, your sinuses, or the tissues in your brain. This can be life-threatening. Ask your caregiver if you have questions about the risks of conjunctivitis.
When should I contact my caregiver?
Contact your caregiver if:
- Your eyesight becomes blurry.
- You have tiny bumps or spots of blood on your eye.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care?
Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- The swelling in your eye gets worse, even after treatment.
- Your vision suddenly becomes worse or you cannot see at all.
- Your eye begins to bleed.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.