Conjunctivitis is any condition that infects or inflames the conjunctiva, the clear layer of tissue over the white part of the eye and lining the inner lid. There are many causes of conjunctivitis and not all are infectious. Overuse of antibiotics prescribed to placate worried patients in cases of non-bacterial conjunctivitis has caused the development of resistant bacteria, so please don’t ask for an antibiotic if your doctor suspects it is not a bacterial condition. Your best bet is to see an eye care professional that is trained in the differences among the different types of conjunctivitis and has the equipment to properly diagnose you.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually caused by bacteria found on our own skin, but occasionally may be caused by more concerning microbes like chlamydia and gonorrhea. Antibiotics are sometimes necessary, but most infections are self-limiting and will clear in 10 days. Bright red eyes and goopy discharge are hallmarks signs that you have a bacterial conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis is more commonly known as “Pink Eye”. This condition is often caused by the common cold virus, and much like the common cold there is no cure, only pallative treatment to make you look and feel better. Like bacterial conjunctivitis, this is usually a self limiting condition over 7 to 14 days. This type of conjunctivitis is typically characterized by a pinkish hue and weepy clear discharge. Ocular decongestants such as Opcon A, Vasocon A and Naphcon A are often used to reduce the swelling associated with viral conjunctivitis. Young children are often asked to remain home as they are typically poor with their hygiene habits and may spread it to others. Frequent use of hand sanitizer is a must and disposal of any eye makeup is needed to prevent reinfecting yourself.
Allergic conjunctivitis is most often characterized as a pinkish eye with ropy discharge and itch. This may be caused by pollens like the pine blowing down from Tahoe, dust, perfumes, pets and much more. There are some great over the counter remedies for this all too common condition. Ketotifen fumarate (also known as Zaditor or Alaway) is a twice daily over the counter drug that both stabilizes the mast cells and acts as an antihistamine. This means you get immediate relief along with long lasting protection. Moderate to severe cases often need stronger medications like steroids to calm the inflammation and itch. Cool compresses and artificial tears kept in the refrigerator can also be useful.
Chemical conjunctivitis from household cleaners and workplace chemicals can be very serious and cause blindness. In these cases flush your eyes with saline and see your eye care professional immediately.
Mechanical or traumatic CONJUNCTIVITIS
Mechanical or traumatic conjunctivitis is caused by scratching or irritating the conjunctiva. These cases are often treated with over the counter lubricants and sometimes steroids and antibiotics if the trauma is severe enough. These cases are differentiated typically by history, as there is often an obvious causative event.