Conjunctivitis, which is usually referred to as pink eye, is a very common form of eye infection. It's especially prevalent in children, who typically touch their eyes frequently and don't practice good hygiene, which allows bacteria or viruses to easily enter and infect the eye. Conjunctivitis can be caused by an allergic reaction as well, and it's often the result of using cosmetic products you're allergic to. Thankfully, conjunctivitis is rarely serious and normally heals on its own. However, other infections with similar symptoms can threaten the health of your eyes. To learn more about what you can do to treat conjunctivitis and when you should seek medical attention, read on.
What Is Conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis occurs when the conjunctiva in your eye becomes inflamed due to allergies or infection. Your conjunctiva is the thin membrane that rests above the white of your eyes. Since the conjunctiva is the outermost layer, it's prone to becoming infected. In some cases, bacterial or viral infections in your sinuses can make their way through your tear ducts and into your conjunctiva, causing conjunctivitis.
What Are the Signs of Conjunctivitis?
The most common symptoms of conjunctivitis are pink eyes, discharge, and swollen eyelids. The discharge in bacterial conjunctivitis is often sufficient enough to cause crusts to form on your eyelids and your eyebrows. People with conjunctivitis may also have itchy eyes, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision due to the presence of the discharge.
It can be difficult to determine if your conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria, viruses, or an allergic reaction. Allergic conjunctivitis often causes the insides of your eyes to feel itchy rather than just your eyelids, and bacterial conjunctivitis often causes a large amount of discharge. The other symptoms, however, are shared between bacterial conjunctivitis, viral conjunctivitis, and allergic conjunctivitis.
How Do You Treat Conjunctivitis?
In the vast majority of cases, conjunctivitis will go away on its own. It simply requires time for your body's immune system to fight off the infection. Most cases will disappear within two weeks, but some forms of bacteria can infect the conjunctiva for up to a month. In the meantime, you can apply wet washcloths to your eye in order to reduce pain and swelling. If you have bacterial conjunctivitis, then your doctor can prescribe antibiotic eye drops in order to help it heal quicker.
The most important thing you need to do when you have conjunctivitis, however, is to prevent it from spreading. Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are both very contagious, which is why they often transmit rapidly between students in a school classroom. Replace all cosmetic products that may have come in contact with your eyes, avoid touching your eyes, and make sure that you wash your hands frequently. Good hygiene will limit the risk of reinfection and spreading the disease to other people.
When Should You See an Ophthalmologist for Conjunctivitis?
If you have severe eye pain or significantly impaired vision, schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist. You should also make an appointment if your conjunctivitis doesn't seem to be improving on its own. These can be symptoms of other eye infections such as uveitis and iritis. Both infections are substantially more serious than conjunctivitis and can threaten your vision — ophthalmology services are needed to treat them quickly and protect the health of your eyes.
Contact a local ophthalmology clinic for more information.