Conjunctivitis is the term used to describe inflammation of the conjunctiva--the thin, filmy membrane that covers the inside of the eyelids and the white part of the eye (sclera)--and is commonly referred to as red or "pink" eye.
The conjunctiva, which contains tiny blood vessels, produces mucus to coat and lubricate the surface of your eye. When the conjunctiva becomes irritated or inflamed, the blood vessels become larger and more prominent, make your eye appear red.
These include inflammation of the eye, increased tearing, eye soreness, light sensitivity, itchiness, hazy or blurred vision, excess mucus (pus), crusting of eyelashes in the morning.
Many different sources of eye irritation can cause conjunctivitis. The most common are: infections (viral and bacterial), allergies, environmental irritants.
Viral infection is the most common cause of conjunctivitis. This same virus produces the familiar red and watery eyes, sore throat, and runny nose of a common cold. Symptoms of conjunctivitis can last from one to two weeks and then will disappear on their own. Discomfort, however, can be alleviated with warm compresses applied to the eyes.
Bacterial infections can cause a type of red eye that produces considerable amounts of pus. Some bacterial infections, however, are more chronic and may produce little or no discharge except for some mild crusting of the eyelashes in the morning. Antibiotic eyedrops are typically used to treat bacterial conjunctivitis.
Infectious conjunctivitis, whether bacterial or viral, can be quite contagious. Practicing good hygiene can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis if you are infected. You should:
- Avoid re-using handkerchiefs and towels to wipe your face and eyes, as well as pillowcases
- Wash your hands frequently
- Keep your hands away from your eyes
- Replace your eye cosmetics regularly--do not share with other people
- Properly clean your contact lenses
- Stay out of swimming pools
This type is not infectious or contagious. It occurs when the body is exposed to materials that cause an allergic reaction, such as pollen or dander, and is often seasonal. Symptoms include redness, itching, burning, tearing, enlarged vessels in the sclera and puffy eyelids. Treatment often includes applying cool compresses to the eyes and taking antihistamines.