What is Conjunctivitis?

What is conjunctivitis, what causes it and how can I treat it? If you are looking for the answers to these questions, read on for all the answers you need. 

What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is a common eye condition that most of us will have experienced at some point during our lifetime. It is caused by either allergies, bacterial infection or viruses. Just one eye or both can be affected and it can often occur alongside symptoms of the common cold virus. 

The whites of our eyes and inside our eyelids are covered with a transparent mucous membrane called the conjunctiva. If these get irritated or inflamed then it can make your eyes feel itchy, sore, watery, gritty or crusty. A common symptom is that a thick pus-like substance is often produced around the eye, which as it dries, can be strong enough to stick your eyelids together, especially first thing in the morning upon waking. 

As the conjunctiva also holds lots of tiny blood vessels, when these become inflamed they become enlarged and more visible, making the whites of your eyes bloodshot and more red or pink in colour than usual. This is why some people call conjunctivitis ‘Pink-Eye’. 

What causes Conjunctivitis?

It can be caused by both allergies and bacterial or viral infections. Allergic reactions where the conjunctiva is irritated by allergens such as pollen or pet hair generally produce a more watery discharge like excessive tearing rather than a pus-like discharge. While allergy symptoms can be unpleasant, they are not contagious and may be managed by over the counter remedies from the pharmacy. 

Conjunctivitis caused by bacterial or viral infections is often accompanied by the build-up of sticky pus around the eye lashes. It is a very common and usually mild illness which will clear up completely by itself within two weeks, without causing any long term problems. It is extremely rare for it to affect vision. However, it is as contagious as the common cold and can be easily passed onto the next person, especially when they are in regular close contact with each other. 

How to Treat Conjunctivitis

  • Boil water and let it cool down until it’s a comfortable warm temperature to put on your eyelids. Use this water and clean cotton wool to gently soften and clean the discharge off your eyes. Use a new piece of cotton wool for each eye, every time you clean your eyes. Do this as many times each day as necessary. 
  • Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes as much as possible.
  • If your eyes feel hot and inflamed, hold a clean flannel or cotton wool soaked in cold (but previously boiled) water against your closed eyelids for a few minutes.
  • Do not wear contact lenses until your eyes have completely cleared up. 
  • Avoid wearing eye make-up until it has cleared as this may add to the irritation. 
  • Seek advice from your local pharmacist who can advise on appropriate eyedrops or eye creams to help alleviate symptoms. 
  • Practice good hygiene – do not share flannels, towels or pillows and make sure they are washed regularly on a hot wash with detergent. Wash hands often with soap and water. Do not share cosmetics and make-up with anyone else. Dispose of and replace cosmetic items such as mascara after an infection. 
  • Unless you feel unwell, the NHS recommends that there is no need to stay away from work or school. However, it is advisable to speak to your child’s school or nursery about their individual policies. 

When to See the Doctor

  • If it feels like there is something stuck in your eye.
  • Any pain within or around the eye.
  • Any problems with sight, such as blurred vision or light sensitivity.
  • If symptoms have not cleared up within two weeks. 
  • If a newborn baby less than 28 days old has red eyes.
Book an appointment today

To book an eye examination today or to speak to a member of our team about any eye care questions you may have, give Sergeant & Barber Opticians of Lowestoft a call today on 01502 568241.

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