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  1. Durning, Marijke Vroomen RN

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What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is an eye inflammation that can be very contagious. The white part of your eye, called the sclera, and the inside of your eyelid are covered by a thin clear membrane called the conjunctiva. Tiny blood vessels in the conjunctiva can become bigger when irritated or inflamed, making the eye appear red or pink. This is why this condition is also called pink eye.


What causes conjunctivitis?

The most common causes of conjunctivitis are bacteria, viruses, allergies, and irritations.


Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are very contagious, meaning that they can be passed easily from one person to another. Allergic conjunctivitis happens when your eyes are exposed to something that you're allergic to, called an allergen. Examples include grass, pollen, trees, or ragweed. Irritation conjunctivitis is caused by getting something in your eye. This could be a bit of lotion, a chemical splash, or chlorine from a swimming pool. It could also be caused by a contact lens, an eyelash, or even a crumb.


How will I know if I have conjunctivitis?

Signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis vary depending on the cause and can include:


* redness in the white of the eye


* eyelid swelling


* itchiness in your eye


* a gritty feeling, as if something is in your eye


* discharge that may cause crusting on your eyelashes in the morning (most discharge is clear, but bacterial conjunctivitis causes a yellow/green discharge)


* increased amount of tears.



If you experience any of these signs and symptoms, contact your healthcare provider or eye care professional immediately.


How is conjunctivitis treated?

Treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause. Conjunctivitis may go away on its own, but treatment can make you feel better. Putting a cool compress against the eye can help. Don't rub your eye and avoid touching it with your hands.


Allergy drops may help ease itching and redness for allergic conjunctivitis. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before you take any new medicine.


Antibiotic drops or ointments will be prescribed by your healthcare provider or eye care professional to treat bacterial conjunctivitis. Continue using the drops or ointment for as long as prescribed, even if the infection seems to have cleared up, because some bacteria might remain even after symptoms go away. After completing treatment, throw away any remaining drops or ointment. You'll need a new prescription for any future infection, so it's best not to save drops or ointment "just in case."


The only thing that will help viral conjunctivitis go away is time. Your healthcare provider or pharmacist may be able to recommend soothing eye drops.


To avoid spreading infectious conjunctivitis to others:


* wash your hands frequently


* don't touch your eyes


* don't share eye makeup


* don't use the eye makeup testers at cosmetic counters


* don't wear your contact lenses longer than recommended and always clean them properly


* don't share a facecloth, towel, or pillowcase with anyone.



What can I do to prevent getting conjunctivitis?

To cut down the risk of getting bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, follow the same precautions listed above that you would follow if you already had the infection.


To prevent allergic conjunctivitis, try to avoid allergens that cause it. Stay in air-conditioned places when pollen counts are high in your area. Don't hang your clothes out on a clothesline. Ask your healthcare provider if you should take an over-the-counter allergy medicine.