Conjunctivitis is one of the most common types of eye conditions. You may also hear it referred to as pink eye since one of the symptoms associated with this inflammatory condition is pinkness or redness of the eye. While many people have heard of conjunctivitis, far fewer people realize that there are actually several different types of conjunctivitis, each with different causes and requiring a different approach to treat them.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is most often caused by bacteria which is found on our own skin or in our respiratory system. The types of bacteria which most commonly trigger bacterial conjunctivitis are Staphylococcus auereus, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. As a result, bacterial conjunctivitis often accompanies illness such as a sinus or ear infection. It can also be caused by physical contact with other people, poor hand hygiene (touching your eyes with unclean hands), and using contaminated eye cosmetics.
Symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis include:
Pinkness/redness of the eye
Eye pain, that can range from mild discomfort to burning or searing pain
Itchiness of the eyes
Eyes that feel gritty or like there is something in them
Thick, sticky discharge from the eye
Treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis nearly always involves antibiotics and these can be administered in the form of eye drops or ointments. You must use them exactly as directed, and the course of antibiotics may extend for up to two weeks, depending on the severity of the infection.
Viral conjunctivitis is equally as common as bacterial conjunctivitis and is extremely contagious. It occurs when a person comes into contact with an airborne virus, which is transmitted when the carrier coughs or sneezes. Viral conjunctivitis also often occurs alongside colds, the flu, and other upper respiratory infections. Since it is so contagious, sufferers will have to take extra care to prevent it from spreading to other members of their household.
Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis include:
Symptoms that typically start in one eye and then spread to the other
Mild pain or discomfort
Grittiness and irritation
Swollen, red eyelids
Pinkness or intense redness of the eye
Crustiness around the eyelids when you wake up in the morning
Watery discharge from the eye, occasionally accompanied by mucus
Unfortunately, there is no antiviral medication for viral conjunctivitis, and it doesn’t respond to antibiotic drops as it isn’t caused by bacteria. Instead, patients are advised to use a combination of a robust cleaning routine (clean water, with a clean cotton pad for each eye so that the virus does not spread between them), cold compresses, artificial tears, and over the counter pain relief. The conjunctivitis should disappear of its own accord when your body becomes immune to the virus. However, if your cornea is affected or your symptoms are severe, you may also be recommended to use steroid drops which need to be taken exactly as directed.
Eye allergies are extremely common and can be triggered by a variety of different factors, from tree, grass and flower pollen, to dust mites, mold spores, animal dander or cigarette smoke. In some instances, these allergies can lead to conjunctivitis.
Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include:
Redness in both eyes
Itching and burning of the eyes
A watery discharge
Acute discomfort in bright sunlight
These symptoms may come and go or remain fairly persistent all year round.
If you are diagnosed with allergic conjunctivitis, your eye doctor will recommend that you use a combination of prevention strategies to minimize your exposure and ease your symptoms. These could include:
Keeping your windows closed when the pollen count is high
Reducing and eliminating dust from your home
Using an indoor air purifier
Taking antihistamines which reduce your body’s response to the irritation
Using anti-inflammatory eye drops
Steroid eye drops
Your eye doctor will be able to advise you which methods should be most effective for you.
This type of conjunctivitis typically affects patients who wear soft contact lenses and is normally experienced in both eyes. It occurs when one or several small round bumps develop on the underside of the eyelid, and over time, the size of these bumps may increase until they become uncomfortable and compromise your vision.
Early symptoms of this type of conjunctivitis include:
Slight redness of the eye
Small amounts of mucus in the eye
However, as the condition progresses, patients will experience more intense itching, excess mucus, and blurred vision.
Exactly what treatment you will need will depend on what is causing your conjunctivitis, but most patients find that they have to stop wearing their contact lenses, at least temporarily and they may also be prescribed antihistamines or topical steroids to ease their symptoms.
Many people are surprised to discover that it is possible to get conjunctivitis from having a sexually-transmitted infection – in particular gonorrhea and chlamydia. Newborn babies of mothers with such infections may contract it during the delivery process. This puts their eyesight under considerable risk since they can develop trachoma – a form of chlamydial infection that causes scarring to the surface of the eye and is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. Pregnant mothers who suspect that they may have an STI are strongly advised to get checked for infection before they give birth.
For more information about the various types of conjunctivitis and how they are treated, or to schedule an appointment with our expert team, please call our eye care center today.