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Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a membrane that covers the eye and lines the inner surface of the eyelid. There are many ...

condition

Definition

Conjunctivitis is swelling and irritation in the eye. It affects the tissue that covers the eye and lines the inner surface of the eyelid. This tissue is called conjunctiva.

Eye with Conjunctivitis

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Causes

There are many causes of conjunctivitis including:

  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection, such as staphylococcus or streptococcus
  • Allergic reaction, usually related to seasonal allergies
  • Chemical irritation caused by:
    • Air pollutants
    • Soap
    • Smoke
    • Chlorine
    • Make-up
    • Other chemicals

Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious.

Risk

Factors that may increase your risk of conjunctivitis include:

  • Contact with a person who has conjunctivitis
  • Sharing towels, linens, or other objects (even doorknobs) with an infected person
  • Exposure to chemical or environmental irritants
  • Contact lenses , especially if contacts are not cleaned and stored properly
  • Age: more common in children
  • Seasonal allergies or contact with known allergens

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Red, watery eyes
  • Swollen inner eyelids
  • Scratchy feeling in the eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Pus-like or watery discharge
  • Swelling of the eyelid

Conjunctivitis will usually clear up within 2-14 days. If conjunctivitis is caused by a seasonal allergy, it may continue throughout the season. If it is caused by a non-seasonal allergy, it may continue to occur year round.

Note: These symptoms can sometimes indicate a more serious medical problem. If you develop these or any other symptoms, see your doctor.

diagnosis

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. The doctor will examine your eye. If there is discharge from your eye, it may be tested. The discharge will help find the cause of the conjunctivitis.

treatment

Treatment

If you wear contacts, avoid wearing contact lenses until the conjunctivitis has cleared.

Treatment will depend on the cause of the conjunctivitis:

Bacterial Infection

Antibiotic eye drops and/or ointment may be prescribed. These drops will help shorten the course of the infection. It will also decrease the amount of time it is contagious. Wipe away any discharge with a clean cotton ball before using the drops.

Viral Infection

There is no medicine to cure a viral infection. To help relieve discomfort consider:

  • Applying warm compresses
  • Artificial tears (found in pharmacies)
Allergic or Chemical Irritation

Avoid the cause of the irritation (eg, smoke, pollen, make-up). Apply cool compresses to the affected area. Your doctor may prescribe allergy eye drops to help relieve allergic conjunctivitis.

To Prevent Further Spread of Infection

If you have a bacterial or viral infection, follow these steps to prevent the spread of infection:

  • Keep hands away from your face and do not rub your eyes.
  • Change pillowcases and towels every night.
  • Do not share pillows or towels.
  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Avoid shaking hands with others.
  • Avoid swimming.
  • Carefully clean away any discharge with warm water and clean cotton (or gauze) and immediately discard.

If you are diagnosed with conjunctivitis, follow your doctor's instructions .

prevention

Prevention

To decrease your chance of conjunctivitis:

  • Do not share makeup or eye drops with anyone else.
  • Avoid sharing towels, washcloths, pillows, and handkerchiefs,
  • Wash your hands frequently. Keep your hands away from your eyes.
  • Clean contact lenses daily. Never sleep with them unless approved by your eye doctor.
  • In case of allergic conjunctivitis, avoid the allergy causing substances and irritants.

Your doctor may recommend other prevention methods, depending on the cause.

Care for Your Child

If your child has to see an allergy specialist, it's important that you visit a doctor who understands the needs of kids. 

At UVA, our doctors are experts in the special kind of care children need.

Learn more.

Asthma Care

We don't just treat symptoms. We use state-of-the-art therapies to treat the cause of your condition.

Asthma Care

For severe asthma that fails to respond to the usual drugs, we do a comprehensive evaluation of all the possible sources: sinus, reflux, allergies or sleep disorders. You may not even have asthma, but a vocal cord issue or sleep apnea. So it's a matter of discovering the right diagnosis before we begin treatment.

Our Specialties

Our specialties include treatment for:

  • Aspirin-related asthma: Our nationally known specialists offer a specific procedure to help treat this condition.
  • Acid reflux: We can test your breath for a possible relationship between your allergies and reflux.
  • Immune deficiencies: We specialize in identifying patients who have adult-onset deficiencies in their ability to fight infections — especially patients who might benefit from therapies to help them fight off those infections.
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