Conjunctivitis (also called pink eye) is the most common eye infection. It causes soreness and swelling (inflammation) of the skin that lines the eyelid and the white part of the eyeball. One or both eyes can have it. People of any age can get conjunctivitis. It occurs most often in the fall.
Serious complications that threaten sight are very rare.
The cause can be infection with bacteria or virus (very contagious) or an allergy to something such as pollen.
The virus is usually the one that causes a common cold. Different bacteria (such as Staphylococcus and Streptococcus) can cause the infection. Direct contact with tears or the infected area, which occurs by placing towels, fingers, or handkerchiefs near the eye, will pass these infections to others.
Conjunctivitis produces a red irritated eye with a watery discharge (allergic and viral) or a discharge of mucus and pus (bacterial). Bacterial conjunctivitis also causes soreness and swelling in one eye, slight pain and feeling dirt or grit in the eye, and a slimy discharge that causes lids to crust. It’s most common in children.
Viral conjunctivitis usually causes inflammation and discharge that is more watery than that in bacterial conjunctivitis.
Allergic conjunctivitis produces red, irritated, itchy eyes; small watery discharge; and inflammation of both eyes. Itching is characteristic of allergic conjunctivitis. Allergies can be to pollen, pets, and house dust.
The health care provider makes a diagnosis from your medical history and an examination of your eyes.
For bacterial infection, the health care provider will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment. Warm compresses on the eye may also be used.
For viral conjunctivitis, the health care provider may suggest eye drops that help increase moisture in the eye. Antibiotic eye drops or ointment won’t work. Warm compresses on the eye may help.
For allergic conjunctivitis, the health care provider will prescribe eye drops for inflammation. Cold, not hot, compresses may soothe the eye. Decongestant and antihistamines may also be used.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually much better within 48 hours of starting therapy. It’s usually over in about 1 week.
Viral conjunctivitis usually improves in 1 to 2 weeks but may take longer.
Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis may be seasonal.
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