Conjunctivitis is the collective term used to describe any one of a family of eye diseases that affect the mucous membrane covering the white areas of the eye and under the eyelids. When conjunctivitis is active it often leaves the eye a slightly red colour, so the condition is often given the common name of “pink eye”.
Although conjunctivitis is regarded by many as always being an infection, it can actually be caused by physical effects from some shampoos and soaps when they get into the eye, or from handling pool chemicals, and so is sometimes really more of a reaction condition.
The causes of conjunctivitis then are infections mainly from bacteria or viruses, or allergic reactions to environment or physical conditions.
Despite common thinking, the majority of types of bacteria are “good” since they help our bodies to work properly, why even in our eyelashes near the eyelids there are bacteria that keep them clean.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is an infection that starts in one eye and quickly spreads to the other being so close, often being spread through touching and of course whilst sleeping. The initial infection may come from a sinus or ear infection or through someone else, with symptoms of eyes sticking together because of a thick discharge.
Treatment for a bacterial conjunctivitis is the same as for any bacterial infection, a course of antibiotics either as eye drops or ointment clears up the problem entirely within a couple of weeks in most cases.
Viruses are essentially parasites that as soon as they find a human can start to reproduce, multiplying at an alarming rate. They attack the most vulnerable part of the body first, the mucous membranes. The eyes, being covered by a mucous membrane to keep them lubricated, are a prime target of viruses, with viral conjunctivitis easily spread by the coughing and sneezing associated with a bout of flu.
Symptoms are swollen eyelids, sometimes eyes as well, accompanied by watery eyes.
Antibiotics are not the answer with viral infections, so eye drops or ointments are of no use except to alleviate the symptoms. It’s really just a matter of waiting, and once day 3 to 5 of the infection period is over things usually get better naturally, as the immune system kicks in.
As the name suggests this type of conjunctivitis is caused by allergic reaction, more often than not triggered by hay fever, itself triggered by exposure to pollens or some particular agent such as a chemical in a cosmetic.
Rather than treatment being sought, relief from the symptoms is more appropriate, often provided by antihistamine eye drops. The best course of action of course is prevention, but that’s only if the source of the allergy is known.
Whilst not being infectious, allergic conjunctivitis is unpleasant for both sufferer and witness, with the “pink eye” not looking all that attractive.
Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis
Often referred to as GPC, this conjunctivitis is a reaction type, usually found in wearers of contact lenses, since the condition is one caused by physical objects getting into the eye.
If the sufferer does wear contact lenses, the answer to the irritation problem is to stop wearing them for a while, changing the type or disposing of them more frequently. Often use of prescribed eye drops by a therapeutically trained optometrist will hasten the healing process and allow wearing of contact lenses earlier.
This type of conjunctivitis definitely comes under the category of infectious!
The bacterial infection is transmitted through sexual contact and symptoms are swollen eyelids, a sticky discharge and the inevitable “pink eye”. Treatment is with specific drugs to not only combat the eye infection but also the presence of the disease elsewhere in the body. Chalamydial Conjunctivitis has specific signs that only an optometrist or ophthalmologist can recognise. This infection should be suspected if there is no resolution of the conjunctivitis after a number of weeks.