Conjunctiva is the thin layer of tissue that covers the white part of our eyes. When it gets irritated and inflamed for a number of reasons, it is called conjunctivitis or pink eye. Most pink eyes are caused by viruses. Some are caused by bacteria, parasites, or fungi. Yet others are caused by irritant chemicals or allergens.
If the conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, eyes get red and tend to water a lot. The infection is highly contagious for up to 2 weeks and can spread by mere contact or from coughing or sneezing. Frequent hand wash, separating towels, and not touching the eye will reduce its spread to other people. Over-the-counter artificial tears usually help with eye irritations in viral conjunctivitis. In some cases, steroid eye drops are used to reduce symptoms. Antibiotics are not needed.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by a number of bacteria and is common in children. Symptoms include red eyes with sticky discharges. It is also contagious; therefore, general hygiene has to be maintained in order not to spread the disease. Most bacterial infections resolve on their own within a week or so without needing any treatment. However, antibiotic eyedrops are often prescribed to reduce symptoms and severity of the condition. Some bacterial conjunctivitis are related to STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) like gonorrhea and chlamydia. Gonorrheal symptoms are much more pronounced and if not treated promptly and adequately with antibiotics, it may cause loss of vision. Chlamydial infection, on the other hand, can last for months. Conjunctivitis usually results from the spread of the bacteria to the eye from genital discharges or from the mother to the baby during delivery. Oral and topical antibiotics are used for treatment.
Allergic conjunctivitis is an irritation of the conjunctiva from dust particles, pollens, mites, or other allergens. Discharges are usually watery and eyelids may become puffy. The telltale signs of allergies are itching and rubbing of the eyes. Some allergic conjunctivitis flare up during the summer season, whereas others persist throughout the year. There are a number of medications to combat allergies. Some medications provide quick relief, while others may prevent future attacks. In severe cases, oral or topical steroids can be prescribed.