Healthy Living

How is Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?

How is Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?

Nowadays, many people self-diagnose and use alternative methods to cure themselves of illnesses. They research on the internet, looking for the right fit for the symptoms they are experiencing. They then look up the treatment options for the condition they believe they have, often opting for alternative remedies since they cannot prescribe themselves medication unless they are doctors in the first place. They don’t know how wrong and risky the approach is. Their sources and limited knowledge can easily mislead them. Not every disease, condition, or infection can be diagnosed and resolved using information on the internet. It takes a qualified doctor to not only recognize a disease through its symptoms, but also order tests to confirm it, rule out or consider other possibilities, and prescribe the proper treatments actually backed up by scientific research as well as medical experience. 
Many diseases are easily cured or have a more optimistic prognosis if they are diagnosed in their early phase and treated correctly. Conjunctivitis is one such infection. You can read and learn all about the symptoms of conjunctivitis, but you can’t be a hundred percent sure that it is what you are suffering from. The best way to determine whether you are infected with conjunctivitis and not some other eye condition is to visit a doctor. 

The inner surface of the eyelid is lined by a layer of transparent tissue called the conjunctiva. The inflammation of the conjunctiva is called conjunctivitis, which is quite a common disease especially in children. It can be highly contagious and very easily spread among children at school and on playgrounds. Conjunctivitis is usually the result of a bacterial or viral infection, although it can also be caused by an allergic response to pollution, pollen, swimming pool chemicals, cosmetics, or even wearing contact lenses.

When it comes to conjunctivitis, the symptoms are very clear:

-          Redness in the eye or "pinkeye"

-          Discomfort due to a gritty feeling in the eye

-          Itchiness

-          Tearing

-          Sensitivity to light

-          Discharge

If you have any of these symptoms, chances are that you are already infected. However, you still can’t be sure unless you visit a doctor. He or she can help you much better than anyone else, since she can perform a test on the eye to determine whether it is, indeed, conjunctivitis you are suffering from. The test is non-invasive and nothing to be afraid of at all. The doctor uses a cotton swab to take a sample of the mucus produced by your eye and sends it out to have a laboratory run a test on it. If the test shows that the eye is infected, the doctor can then prescribe the proper medications to treat your eye.

Another thing that is very important about running a test on the infected eye is that the doctor can precisely determine what kind of conjunctivitis you have. There are different types of conjunctivitis and each is treated differently. This is a key reason for you to visit an eye doctor (an ophthalmologist).

These are three most common types of conjunctivitis:

Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a wide variety of viruses, but most commonly by adenovirus, which is associated with respiratory diseases and the common cold. Infection can happen by exposure to a person who has a respiratory infection or cold and sneezes or coughs near you. Viral conjunctivitis also occurs when the virus is communicated from the respiratory system to the tear ducts and eyes via the mucous membranes that connect them. 

Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually a result of bacterial infection from your own respiratory system or skin. Poor hygiene, using contaminated eye makeup, wearing borrowed contact lenses, physical proximity to people who are infected, and even bugs can all result in bacterial conjunctivitis.

Allergic conjunctivitis is quite common in patients who suffer from seasonal allergies, and usually occur in spring and summer, when airborne pollen is abundant. Giant papillary conjunctivitis is a type of allergic conjunctivitis that results from getting a foreign object in the eye. People who wear contact lenses for prolonged periods, wear hard contact lenses, or have a prosthetic eye are usually the ones to suffer from this kind of conjunctivitis.


Scrapings are the usual method used to diagnose bacterial conjunctivitis. Conjunctiva scrapings are collected by using a spatula with the aid of a topical anaesthetic.

Gram stain is used to find the characteristics of the bacteria and usually includes an approximate of the white blood cell count, while Giemsa stain is very effective when screening for elements of Chlamydia.

Cultures can be done for viral agents as well as chlamydial and other bacterial organisms. Fungal culture, meanwhile, is not normally done except in certain cases such as having sustained a gardening injury or used a contact lens solution determined to be contaminated. 

The doctor routinely has a bacterial culture done when specific bacterial infections are suspected. Most cases of bacterial conjunctivitis, however, do not mandate confirmation through bacterial cultures, except in these cases in which they are highly useful: 

  • Neonatal conjunctivitis
  • Hyperacute conjunctivitis such as for gonorrhoeae
  • Very elderly persons
  • Patients admitted in hospitals
  • Patients with HIV infection, undergoing chemotherapy or any other therapy that suppresses the immune system
  • Infection that recurs
  • Patients that have received corneal grafts
  • Anyone who has had recent ophthalmic surgery

The Bottom Line

The three types of conjunctivitis have similar yet still varying symptoms that only a professional doctor can differentiate in order to make an accurate diagnosis. The different types require different treatments and only a doctor can accurately identify the type of conjunctivitis you have and prescribe the right medication and treatment.

Conjunctivitis is a treatable infection. With appropriate treatment, the infection will be cured in less than a month. If not, the infection may spread to the other eye or even cause complications, in which case you will have to treat the condition for a month or more, suffering its symptoms all the while and possibly infecting others as well. Whenever you have any of the symptoms of conjunctivitis, visit your doctor immediately.