The conjunctiva is a clear layer of tissue lining the eyelids and covering the white of the eye. Conjunctivitis occurs when the conjunctiva becomes swollen or inflamed.
This swelling can be due to an infection, an irritant, dry eyes, or an allergy.
Tears most often protect the eyes by washing away the germs and irritants. Tears contain proteins and antibodies that kill germs. If your eyes are dry, germs and irritants are more likely to cause problems.
Conjunctivitis is most often caused by germs such as viruses and bacteria.
A type of long-term allergic conjunctivitis may occur in people who have those with chronic allergies or asthma. This condition is called vernal conjunctivitis. It is most commonly occurs in young men and boys in the spring and summer months. A similar condition can occur in long-time contact lens wearers. It may make it difficult to continue to wear contact lenses.
Anything which irritates the eye may cause conjunctivitis also. These include:
Your health care provider will:
There are tests that can sometimes be done in the office to look for a specific type of virus as the cause.
Treatment of conjunctivitis depends on the cause.
Allergic conjunctivitis may improve when allergies are treated. It may go away on its own when you avoid your allergy triggers. Cool compresses may help soothe allergic conjunctivitis. Eye drops in the form of antihistamines for the eye or drops containing steroids, may be necessary in more severe cases.
Antibiotic medicines work well to treat conjunctivitis caused by bacteria. These are most often given in the form of eye drops. Viral conjunctivitis will go away on its own without antibiotics. Mild steroid eye drops may help ease discomfort.
If your eyes are dry, if may help to use artificial tears in conjunction with any other drops you may be using. Crustiness of the eyelids can be helped by applying warm compresses. Gently press clean cloth soaked in warm water to your closed eyes.
Other helpful steps include:
The outcome for bacterial infections is most often good with early antibiotic treatment. Pinkeye (viral conjunctivitis) can easily spread through entire households or classrooms.
Contact your provider if:
Good hygiene can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis. Things you can do include:
Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.