Conjunctivitis or "pinkeye" is an infection of the conjunctiva, the thin, clear membrane coating the white of the eye and lining the inside of the eyelid. The symptoms may vary slightly depending on the cause, but are distinct: redness of the white part of the eye, tearing, a thick yellow discharge that crusts along the lash line while you sleep, and a green or white discharge. The eye will also likely itch or burn or feel gritty. If any of these symptoms are present, the right thing to do is visit your doctor who can determine how to treat the conjunctivitis. Many people try to resolve the problem themselves, but this is not really the best course of action. This is because there are different types of conjunctivitis, and they are all treated differently. While conjunctivitis usually resolves on its own, proper treatment will cure the infection more quickly, while inappropriate treatment can help the infection stick around longer.
There are three different types of conjunctivitis and each requires a different treatment:
- Bacterial conjunctivitis
- Viral conjunctivitis
Bacterial conjunctivitis may last up to two weeks. If you are suffering from this kind of infection, the period may be shortened if you consult with your doctor. The doctor may determine the bacterial conjunctivitis in time, and he can prescribe you medication so you can treat your eye. To be precise, the recovery period of this infection is 2 weeks if the infection is not treated. The doctor will prescribe antibiotics in the form of eye drops or an ointment. Sometimes doctors prescribe an oral antibiotic. The medication is used both to treat the existing infection and as a precaution to stop the infection from spreading and recurring.
Older generation antibiotics may be prescribed for mild and non-threatening conjunctivitis. New age antibiotics must be used only in case of more advanced infections to stop the spread of resistant bacteria on the optical surface. The latest generation antibiotics give extensive coverage for most gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria and these can be prescribed for bacterial conjunctivitis that ranges from moderate to severe. In severe cases, antibiotics that are fortified are also used. For cases of chlamydial and gonorrhoeae infections, systemic antibiotics are usually given. Surgery is needed only under special conditions such as sinusitis or lachrymal duct stoppage.
Hospitalization for the treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis is quite rare and advised only under extraordinary circumstances such as if the patient needs to be given antibiotic treatment round the clock. If the treatment is being done at the hospital, doctors will consider differential diagnoses as patients admitted for the same are usually quite ill.
Allergic conjunctivitis commonly appears in the warmer months (spring and summer) when the amount of pollen in the air is higher. People who are allergic to pollen may often be affected by this kind of conjunctivitis. For allergic conjunctivitis, it is also very important to visit a doctor, because only the doctor can determine the condition and only he can prescribe medication. There is no special treatment for this infection, except that the doctor can prescribe you special eye drops that will help you get better. It is very important to remember not to scratch at or rub your eyes with your fingers. It may be a habit, or the itching or crusty discharge brought on by conjunctivitis might give you the urge to, but your hands may not always be clean. This only helps the infection spread even more.
The same elements that trigger allergies in the nasal mucosa also trigger allergies in the conjunctiva mucosa, causing allergic conjunctivitis. Pollen, dust, grass, molds, weeds, and other airborne allergens can cause symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis such as itching in the eye, redness, excessive tearing, sticky eye, and a discharge.
Patients with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) usually display symptoms for a specific time period such as during spring when pollen is airborne. In summer, pollen from grass is prevalent and during fall it is the pollen from weed that is everywhere. Winter is usually the time when patients with SAC have no symptoms because the cooler weather reduces the incidence of allergens that are transmitted.
For viral conjunctivitis, there is no special treatment. This is the most serious type of all three infections, mainly because it is the most infectious and can last the longest. Some viruses may also cause scarring of the cornea. It is thus better diagnosed in the early stages, so you can take precautions.
In most cases, viral conjunctivitis starts out infecting one eye, and then infects the other one the next few days. This happens most often to people who use contact lenses, because they may get the lenses mixed up and place the lens used on the infected eye on the uninfected one, and end up with both eyes infected. The situation of having both eyes infected is no doubt extremely uncomfortable, so a doctor would strongly advise anyone with viral conjunctivitis not to scratch or rub their eyes, and to wash their hands more often.
There is no special treatment for viral conjunctivitis, but doctors can prescribe a certain antiviral that can help you to get better faster than the normal recovery period (which is 2 weeks to a month).
The doctor will inform a patient that some of the symptoms will be worse in the initial week after treatment starts to help the patient stay calm when it happens. After that they will start to feel better. They must also be advised that the disease is highly contagious and appropriate precautions must be taken in the workplace or at school. Anyone who wears contact lenses must be told to stop using them until the treatment is over. Almost all cases of viral conjunctivitis are benign, but some cases of chronic infection are also found. Long term optical problems are rare but some patients might be severely affected. Barring these rare complications, the infection usually resolves itself within a month or so.
When it comes to conjunctivitis, there is no way to be sure that you will never be infected. However, one can reduce the chances by washing their hands more often and getting rid of the habit of rubbing or picking at one's eyes with bare, unwashed fingers. If you suspect that you have conjunctivitis, visit your doctor so he can tell you whether you do. If you are, he will determine what kind of conjunctivitis you are suffering, and he will prescribe you the proper treatment.