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When you have conjunctivitis, it’s common to think you just have minor eye irritation – that is, until your eye gets incredibly itchy and uncomfortable. Knowing what the common signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis are can save you a lot of discomfort, and help you decide when you should see the doctor for treatment.

What Is “Pink Eye”?

Conjunctivitis, or the more familiar term, “pink eye,” is one of the most common eye conditions in children and adults. Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of a thin membrane inside the eyelid, which is known as the conjunctiva.

When the tiny blood vessels in the conjunctiva become inflamed or swollen, the delicate tissue appears pink or red. This is where the term “pink eye” comes from.

What Causes Conjunctivitis?

In most cases, a bacterial or viral infection causes conjunctivitis. Other, less common factors may include allergic reactions or irritants to the eye.

Determining the actual cause of conjunctivitis can be challenging because the signs and symptoms are often indistinguishable, regardless of the underlying cause.

Viral conjunctivitis is extremely contagious and can spread from person to person by direct or indirect contact. Although many viruses can cause pink eye, the most common viruses are adenovirus and herpesvirus.

Pink eye may also show up alongside viral upper tract respiratory infections, including colds and sore throats.

Conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis occurs when bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumonia or Haemophilus infects the eye. Like its viral counterpart, bacterial conjunctivitis is also very contagious and can spread effortlessly.

Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by reactions to such allergens as mold, animal dander, pollen or dust mites. If you have allergies, you may be more susceptible to developing allergic conjunctivitis.

Products such as eye drops, contact solutions and contacts can even lead to conjunctivitis. Additionally, pollution, smoke, makeup or even an eyelash or a small foreign body in the eye may cause conjunctivitis.

Symptoms of Conjunctivitis

The symptoms and signs of conjunctivitis can vary depending on the cause; however, the most common symptoms include:

  • A pink or reddish appearance
  • A crusty discharge over your eye(s). You may notice this causes them to stick shut upon waking
  • Swelling
  • Itchiness
  • A gritty feeling
  • Watery eyes or an increase in tears
  • Pain in the eye(s)

Treatment for Conjunctivitis

Most general practitioners can quickly diagnose conjunctivitis. The issue here is that they may not be able to identify whether it is due to a foreign body in your eye or because of a viral or bacterial infection. Seeking a consult with an ophthalmologist will help narrow down the possible causes and, if needed, quicken access to treatments.

Although conjunctivitis may go away on its own in mild cases, it could take up to several weeks. However, medical attention may still be necessary due to the discomfort the symptoms of conjunctivitis cause.

If you experience extreme pain in the eye(s), have vision problems or notice that the symptoms become progressively worse, seek medical attention immediately.
The first step in treatment is to determine the underlying cause of conjunctivitis. With viral conjunctivitis, the doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication; antibiotics will not help with viral conjunctivitis, though. In the case of bacterial conjunctivitis, the doctor may prescribe antibiotic drops or ointment that should shorten the illness and reduce the spread of the infection. Allergic conjunctivitis can be resolved by eliminating contact with the allergen; also, the physician may prescribe certain allergy medications and/or eye drops.

If you suspect you are suffering from conjunctivitis, the most effective course of action is to seek a consult with your doctor or ophthalmologist. You owe it to yourself to take great care of your eyes and ensure many years of healthy vision!

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