Conjunctivitis, aka Apollo, often referred to casually as “pink eye,” is the inflammation or swelling of the conjunctiva—a delicate, transparent tissue layer that envelops the inner surface of the eyelid and overlays the sclera, the white portion of the eye. The origins of this condition can be infectious or non-infectious.
Symptoms can vary with the underlying causes discussed earlier. Allergic reactions often include clear, watery discharge accompanied by mild redness. Itching may be present, sometimes from mild to severe. In contrast, bacterial infections typically exhibit minimal pain but may present with noticeable redness and a yellow/green discharge, occasionally severe. This discharge can lead to red and swollen eyelids, adhering to eyelashes and resulting in a crusty appearance.
Bacterial infections can be more severe in patients who wear contact lenses. Contact lens wearers may also be susceptible to developing bacterial corneal ulcers characterized by intense pain and heightened light sensitivity. Viral infections can induce moderate redness and are generally associated with pain, often described as a sandy or gritty sensation, as if something is in the eye. Additionally, moderate to severe light sensitivity can be a common feature of viral eye infections.
Conjunctivitis can be identified through a thorough eye examination, explicitly focusing on the conjunctiva and surrounding tissues. The diagnostic process may encompass the following:
- Determining the patient’s background to identify symptom onset, considering potential contributions from general health or environmental factors.
- Conducting visual acuity assessments to ascertain any impact on vision.
- Examining the conjunctiva and external eye tissues under bright light and magnification.
- Evaluating the inner structures of the eye to confirm the absence of involvement by the condition in other tissues.
- Performing additional tests, such as obtaining cultures or smears of conjunctival tissue, is especially crucial in persistent Conjunctivitis or when the condition shows resistance to treatment.
With the information obtained from these tests, an optometry professional can diagnose if you have Conjunctivitis and provide suitable eye treatment options.
Causes & Risk Factors
Conjunctivitis has three primary categories: allergic, infectious, and chemical. The cause of Conjunctivitis varies depending on the type.
- Allergic Conjunctivitis
- Allergic Conjunctivitis occurs more commonly in those people who already have seasonal allergies. This condition develops when their eyes come into contact with a substance that triggers an allergic reaction in their eyes.
- Giant papillary Conjunctivitis, a specific type of allergic Conjunctivitis, is triggered by the prolonged presence of a foreign object in the eye. People who use stiff or rigid contact lenses, wear infrequently replaced soft contact lenses, possess an exposed suture on the eye’s surface, or have a prosthetic eye are at an increased risk of developing this Conjunctivitis.
- Infectious Conjunctivitis
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis typically results from an infection primarily caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria originating from one’s skin or respiratory system. Other contributing factors include insect exposure, physical contact with infected individuals, and inadequate hygiene practices, such as touching the eyes with unclean hands and using contaminated eye makeup and facial lotions. Sharing cosmetics and wearing improperly cleaned or non-personal contact lenses can also lead to bacterial Conjunctivitis.
- Viral Conjunctivitis is predominantly caused by contagious viruses associated with common colds. Transmission occurs through exposure to respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing by individuals with upper respiratory tract infections. The virus can also spread through the body’s mucous membranes connecting the lungs, throat, nose, tear ducts, and conjunctiva. Due to the drainage of tears into the nasal passageway, forceful nose blowing may facilitate the movement of the virus from the respiratory system to the eyes.
- Ophthalmia Neonatorum, a severe form of bacterial Conjunctivitis, poses a significant risk to newborns and can result in permanent eye damage if left untreated. This condition occurs when infants are exposed to chlamydia or gonorrhea during passage through the birth canal. As a preventive measure, antibiotic ointment has been routinely applied to the eyes of newborns in U.S. delivery rooms for several years. Immediate treatment is crucial to address the severity of Ophthalmia neonatorum and prevent lasting consequences.
- Chemical conjunctivitis
Chemical Conjunctivitis can be caused by irritants like air pollution, chlorine in swimming pools, and exposure to toxic chemicals.
Follow good hygiene practices to control the spread of Conjunctivitis. For instance:
- Don’t touch or rub your eyes.
- Wash your hands often.
- Use a clean towel and washcloth daily.
- Keep towels and washcloths private.
- Change your pillowcases usually.
- Throw away your eye makeup or cosmetics, such as mascara, eyeliner, etc.
- Don’t share eye makeup, cosmetics, or personal eye care items.
When to See a Doctor
There are several severe eye conditions that can cause eye redness. These conditions may cause eye problems such as pain, a sensation of foreign objects, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light. If you encounter these signs, it is crucial to seek urgent care.
People who use contact lenses must discontinue wearing them at the onset of pink eye symptoms. If your symptoms persist without improvement for 12 to 24 hours, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor to rule out a potentially severe eye infection associated with contact lens use.