Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is one of the most common eye conditions and often one of the most difficult to get rid of. If the whites of your eyes and under your eyelids are red and inflamed, then you have conjunctivitis.
The important question though is...which type do you have?
Successful treatment hinges on the correct diagnosis.
Is conjunctivitis contagious?
That depends on what’s causing it.
If it is viral, then it is extremely contagious and you should take great care with hygiene. This includes washing all linens and towels that may have been contaminated.
The viral form is so contagious that it often breaks out as an epidemic in schools and day-care centres. It is spread by touch and is contagious from even before the symptoms appear.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is also contagious, and can easily spread from one eye to the other, as well as between people. As long as symptoms of watery or sticky discharge, redness and irritation last, consider it contagious.
Allergic conjunctivitis, which is very common in springtime, is not contagious. Neither is the redness and inflammation caused by dry eyes, irritants or contact lenses.
If you suffer from allergies and have not been around children with conjunctivitis, the chances are that you do not have a contagious form of this eye condition.
What is the best conjunctivitis treatment?
As soon as conjunctivitis is diagnosed, the temptation is to reach for the Chlorsig eye drops.
Chlorsig is the brand name of chloramphenicol – a broad spectrum antibiotic indicated for the treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis. BUT the trouble is, most conjunctivitis is NOT bacterial and you will end up using something that causes more harm than good.
The preservatives in the Chlorsig eye drops can aggravate your eyes even more, causing the condition to linger for a lot longer than the usual 3-5 days.
If an optometrist or ophthalmologist has diagnosed bacterial conjunctivitis based on the type of discharge from your eyes (sticky and yellow like pus) and the infection is not related to contact lens wear, then Chlorsig is a very effective treatment.
For other infectious forms of conjunctivitis, including the very contagious viral form, the best treatment is to allow it to resolve on its own.
You can provide symptomatic relief by using cold compresses and flushing your eyes with unpreserved artificial tears. Your eyes will feel miserable for a few days and then the watery discharge will stop and it will all clear up.
If the condition has been caused by irritants (including contact lenses, dry eyes, chemicals etc), these underlying causes need to be addressed before your eyes will feel better. Seeing a therapeutically endorsed optometrist is your best option, as they can often prescribe an anti-inflammatory to quickly improve your symptoms, especially if they are severe.
Best strategies for seeing off conjunctivitis
- Use paper towels and baby wipes in place of handtowels and facewashers. This will reduce the chance of recontamination.
- See a therapeutically endorsed optometrist to get a diagnosis on what is causing the conjunctivitis.
- Avoid using Chlorsig eye drops on the recommendation of a pharmacist or GP who is not likely to examine your eyes in the detail required to make an accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause.
- If you HAVE been diagnosed with bacterial conjunctivitis by your optometrist or eye specialist, use the eye drops for the specified time only.
- Avoid self-medicating with Chlorsig for longer if the condition hasn’t cleared up within 5 days. Chances are, if it hasn’t responded to the drops then you have been misdiagnosed. This is really common and can result in your symptoms lasting a lot longer.
- Remove contact lenses and see your optometrist before wearing them again.
- Use cold compresses several times a day to relief symptoms. A gel eye mask from the freezer provides the best relief.
- Keep the eye lids and eye lashes scrupulously clean using a hygiene system such as Sterilid.
- If you suffer from seasonal allergies, take an antihistamine or use antihistamine eyedrops.
- For severe allergic conjunctivitis, best results can come from breaking the inflammation cycle with a course of steroid eye drops.
- Avoid using decongestant eye drops (Visine, Murine etc) to treat conjunctivitis. All they do it constrict the blood vessels of your eye to make it look temporarily whiter but they do nothing to treat the underlying cause of the condition. As soon as you stop using them, your eyes often have worse redness and inflammation than you had to start.
Not sure what’s causing your red eyes? The Eye Practice has vast experience in the diagnosis and treatment of all forms of red eye.