Conjunctivitis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink-eye, is a common eye infection that affects both adults and children. Find out its symptoms, causes and suitable conjunctivitis treatment methods.


Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that lines the eyeball. Sometimes known as pink-eye, symptoms include swollen and red eyes when the infection makes small blood vessels in the eye more prominent.

The causes of conjunctivitis include bacterial or viral infection as a result of allergies or eye injuries. Infections are highly contagious and often trigger seasonal epidemics, especially among young children. However, early treatment and avoiding contact with the eyes may help to limit its spread.

Conjunctivitis Symptoms

The most common symptoms of conjunctivitis include:
Redness and itchiness in one or both eyes
A gritty feeling or sandy sensation in one or both eyes
A whitish/yellowish discharge in one or both eyes that forms a dry crust around the eye
Watering from one or both eyes

Common Causes of Conjunctivitis

Causes of red eye include:
Chemical or foreign object in the eye

Viral and Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis symptoms usually include a watery or mucous eye discharge and bacterial conjunctivitis often causes a thicker, yellow-green eye discharge that may be associated with a respiratory infection or sore throat.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes and is a response to an allergy-causing substance such as pollen. In response to allergens, the body releases histamine which can cause pink-eye symptoms such as itching, tearing and red or pink eyes.

Conjunctivitis Resulting from Injury

Irritation from chemicals or foreign objects in the eye can cause conjunctivitis if infection occurs.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for pink-eye include:
Exposure to an allergen for allergic conjunctivitis
Exposure to someone infected with the viral or bacterial form of conjunctivitis
Accidental injury or chemical exposure
Contact lenses, in particular long wear lenses

Newborns' eyes are susceptible to bacteria normally present in the mother's birth canal called Chlamydia which sometimes can cause a serious form of conjunctivitis in the newborn known as Ophthalmia Neonatorum. Immediate treatment should be applied to preserve sight.

Diagnosis of Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is diagnosed by clinical examination of the eye.

In addition, the doctor may take a sample of eye secretions from the conjunctiva for laboratory analysis to determine the type of infection and treatment.

If a young infant has recurrent red eye or persistent tearing, the child may have a blocked tear duct.

Conjunctivitis Treatment

For bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotic eye drops are used to treat the eye infection, which should clear up pink-eye within several days. Sometimes an antibiotic eye ointment may be prescribed for treating bacterial pink-eye in children.

Viral conjunctivitis does not respond to treatment with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. It is self-limiting and may take up to two to three weeks to completely clear.

Allergic conjunctivitis is treated with eye drops containing antihistamines, decongestants, mast cell stabilizers, steroids or anti-inflammatory drops. It is best to avoid rubbing the eyes.

Prevention of Conjunctivitis

The best way to control the spread of pink-eye caused by infection is by practising good hygiene . If you have an infected eye, the following measures will help:
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap frequently and do not touch your eyes with your hands.
Change your towel, pillowcase and bed sheets often and do not share them with others.
Discard eye cosmetics particularly mascara which you have used.
Do not use someone else eye cosmetics or personal eye-care items.
Follow instructions for proper contact lens care.
If a child is infected, avoid close contact with other children.

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Conjunctivitis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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