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Conjunctivitis: why is my treatment not working?

Conjunctivitis, also called red eye or pink eye, is not […]

By Published On: 13 December 20173.5 min read

Conjunctivitis, also called red eye or pink eye, is not normally serious, and usually burns itself out within a week or so. But what happens if it lingers around for longer, despite treatment? Find out why your eyes are still red.

Is it conjunctivitis?

Many eye diseases mimic this condition. Anything that makes the eye red, inflamed and irritated can be confused with conjunctivitis. It is not usual for more serious conditions such as uveitis, or other inflammations of the eye to be missed, due to a wrong diagnosis.

Chlorsig not working?

Unless your red eye is caused by a bacterial infection, Chlorsig will not help. In fact, it can do further harm by introducing preservative into your already fragile eye.  Many GP’s dish out this antibiotic like it is some sort of magic bullet, but most of the time it doesn’t work for this condition.

Most adult conjunctivitis is caused by a virus. An antibiotic will have no effect on it. Left to its own devices, your eye will usually clear a virus within a week or so. But adding an antibiotic into the mix can compromise your eye’s healing and slow things down.

What will work?

  • Most forms of this condition are self-limiting and will clear up without treatment.
  • If there really is a bacterial infection, a broad-spectrum antibiotic may help clear it up quicker – but not by much! Studies show that the condition resolves half a day faster with an antibiotic compared to no medical treatment. Even a bacterial conjunctivitis will typically clear up in 5 days on its own, but four and a half days with an antibiotic.
  • Cold compresses and artificial tears can relief symptoms. Use preservative-free lubricating drops, available from your pharmacy. Apply a cool pack from the freezer at regular intervals to the eye area.
  • Remember! This condition is highly contagious! Wash your hands with disinfectant regularly. It is almost impossible to prevent the spread to your other eye, which is why the condition almost always affects both eyes.
  • If your red eye is confirmed as being caused by adenovirus (see below) some practitioners will use Betadine to wash out the eye. This is not something to ever try at home!
  • Unlike the Betadine you may have in your medicine cabinet, this type of Betadine is formulated for safe use in the eye. The procedure also requires the eye to be numbed with local anaesthetic to avoid stinging and burning.  You will also have anti-inflammatory eye drops before and after the procedure. The good news is that this can be remarkably effective in ridding your eye of the virus.

Clues to what’s causing your red eye

  • It can be very difficult to tell bacterial conjunctivitis from viral, even for eye doctors.
  • They CAN do a quick test for adenovirus using a stick (which looks like a mini pregnancy test). This gives a positive or negative result within a minute.
  • If you have recently had a sore throat or chest infection, you are more likely to have a VIRAL form of this disease.
  • If you or your child has an ear infection, it’s more likely that it’s the BACTERIAL form of the disease.
  • Thick, creamy pus is also more likely with a bacterial infection. Viral disease tends to have a watery discharge, but not always – it can be very hard to tell.
  • If your main symptom is itchy eyes, you most likely have an ALLERGIC form.

DON’T try to self-diagnose…

Red eyes can have many causes – some of them very serious. A therapeutically qualified optometrist is the best person to diagnose what’s going on. A GP will not have the necessary equipment ( slit lamp) to properly examine the eyes. If your red eye is caused by serious inflammation or infection, a prompt referral to the appropriate ophthalmologist will be required.

The good news is that most red eyes are NOT serious – but this can be very hard to tell for the person who wakes up with a sore, red eye.

Had enough of your red eyes? Finding it hard to clear?  Call The Eye Practice on (02) 9290 1899 or make an appointment online.


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