Conjunctivitis (red or pink eye)
What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin transparent membrane covering the under-surface of the eyelid. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection or an allergic reaction. Bacteria and viral forms of conjunctivitis are highly contagious, being easily spread from person to person, but can also spread through contaminated objects or water.
Two of every three cases of conjunctivitis resolve in 2-5 days without treatment.
Conjunctivitis often occurs together with inflammation of the edges of the eyelids (blepharitis), the cornea (keratitis) or the sclera (white of the eye).
Conjunctivitis should not affect your vision (except for mucous discharge), and the pupils should react normally. Severe pain, or a strong reaction to bright light may indicate some other ailment that should be investigated.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis
- Red or pink coloured eye(s).
- Irritation, grittiness, itching.
- Mucus secretion (mainly from a bacterial infection).
Causes and remedies for conjunctivitis
- Viral infection (most common cause). Viral conjunctivitis is often associated with
influenza, a common cold, or a
sore throat. The infection usually begins in one eye and spreads to the other. It causes pink or redness,
excessive watering and itching. Herpes can infect the eye, and in this case requires professional
Iodine as a 1% or 5% solution may be an effective treatment (1,2) for viral infections, but is best done under the treatment of a professional because iodine stings and irritates, and may need to be applied with an anaesthetic. Most doctors' treatments are done using povidone-iodine, which I do NOT recommend as povidone-iodine contains additional toxic chemicals. Both Nascent and Lugol's iodine is a purer form.
- Bacterial infection. Bacterial conjunctivitis often (but not always) causes stringy, opaque, greyish or yellowish
mucus discharge that sticks the lids together or causes crusting, especially after sleep. It can feel gritty and irritating,
almost as if there is a foreign body in the eye.
Bacterial infections usually resolve without treatment.
Avoid starchy and sugary foods, which feed bacteria.
Antibiotics, eye drops or ointment may be needed if no improvement is observed after 3 days.
Bacterial eye infections caused by sexually transmitted diseases are quite common. Chlamydial eye infections are the world's leading cause of blindness and require a course of antibiotics.
- Allergic reaction. The need to rub itchy eyes is the hallmark symptom of allergic conjunctivitis. It is more common in those with a history of eczema or asthma. Common causes include seasonal pollen, dust, dander, mites, pollution, eye makeup, medications and chemicals in eye drops. For relief pour cool water over the eyes and face.
- Chemical or toxic reaction. Acid or alkaline chemicals can disrupt the pH of the eye, which is normally 7.0-7.2. Some alkalis such as sodium hydroxide can cause the conjunctiva to look deceptively white. The best treatment is to rinse with plenty of water. Chemical injuries (particularly alkali burns) are medical emergencies as they can cause intraocular damage or severe scarring.
Prevention / general treatment for conjunctivitis
- Good hygiene. Gently wash the eyes in cool or tepid water with clean hands. To clean gummy or crusty eyes in the morning, use a clean cotton ball dipped in lukewarm water to wipe gently along the eyelids. Use clean towels, do not share towels. Use a clean towel and pillowcase every day, especially if the cause is a bacteria or virus.
- Try not to rub the eyes, especially with infected fingers.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses.
- See details of remedies recommended by Grow Youthful visitors, and their experience with them.
1. Shovlin JP, Abel R.
Steroids, povidone iodine recommended for adenoviral keratoconjunctivitis.
Primary Care Optometry News. 2001;6(6):22-23.
2. Melton R, Thomas RK. 2002 Clinical Guide to Ophthalmic Drugs. Supplement to Review of Optometry. 2002;139(6):40s