What is bacterial conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the palpebral or bulbar part of the eye. There are many types and many causes of conjunctivitis. One common type is bacterial conjunctivitis, wherein bacteria that infect the eyes spread through direct contact with an infected person or contaminated surfaces.
In most of the cases, bacterial conjunctivitis is acute and not life-threatening. However, people who have this type of conjunctivitis usually get days off work or school because as with all other types of conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis can easily spread from one person to another.
The types of bacteria responsible for bacterial conjunctivitis may include:
- Haemophilus influenzae
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Streptococcus viridans
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Proteus mirabilis
- Moraxella lacunata
These bacteria can spread through nasal expulsions in the air and from the hand touching the eye. Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a type of bacteria responsible for sexually transmitted diseases as well as hyperacute conjunctivitis.
Chlamydia trachomatis is the primary cause of chronic conjunctivitis. Other types of bacteria can also cause conjunctivitis in patients who are very ill or those who are hospitalized.
This type of conjunctivitis is an infection of the mucous membrane of the eye, also known as the conjunctiva. The acute form of bacterial conjunctivitis is primarily due to Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus aureus, and Haemophilus influenzae.
There are several risk factors for bacterial conjunctivitis. They include, but are not limited to:
- Poor hygiene
- Poor contact lens hygiene
- Chronic use of medications
- Expired or contaminated cosmetics
- Eye diseases
- Compromised immune system
- Exposure to contaminated objects
- Direct contact with people who have the infection
The easiest way to protect yourself from bacterial conjunctivitis or any other type of conjunctivitis is to make sure of the following preventive measures:
- Regular handwashing
- Using your own contact lens and contact lens containers
- Using your own makeup and makeup brushes
- Never sleep in someone else’s bed and use their pillows or pillowcases
- Avoid physical contact with people who have signs of conjunctivitis
Signs and Symptoms
There are many signs and symptoms that can show that a person has bacterial conjunctivitis. They include:
- Red eyes
- Burning sensation in the eyes
- Eye discomfort
- Sensitivity to light
- Intolerance to contact lens
- Blurred vision
The doctor will be able to identify conjunctivitis by simply asking some questions and conducting a physical examination by looking at your eyes. Doctors might also take a sample from the conjunctiva for further analysis in the laboratory.
Viral conjunctivitis can be very hard to tell from bacterial conjunctivitis. The best way is to have a viral and bacterial culture even if the tests are not 100 percent correct.
The symptoms that can differentiate bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, at first sight, may include:
- Small nodules in the conjunctiva
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Watery eyes
- Sticky or crusty eye discharge
- Itchy eyes
- Chest infection
Even though doctors think these symptoms might indicate viral conjunctivitis, recent research does not fully support this hypothesis. Another study suggested that only three symptoms or signs were significant in distinguishing bacterial conjunctivitis from viral conjunctivitis. The aforementioned signs were earlier episodes of itchiness and conjunctivitis, which clearly indicated viral conjunctivitis. Also, when the eyelids stick together after sleeping at night, it often indicates bacterial conjunctivitis.
How to Manage Bacterial Conjunctivitis
Most instances of acute bacterial conjunctivitis are limited and usually clear up within 10 days without any medical intervention. On the other hand, some contagions conditions can be the cause of chronic infections and colonization. Moreover, there has been a significant reduction of the symptoms and the rapid removal of organisms from the conjunctiva after treatment with antibiotics.
Being a very contagious infection, individuals with bacterial conjunctivitis should be told to wash their hands properly and maintain proper hygiene. The exact duration of the infection is very unpredictable and the timing can easily vary. Doctors now recommend that the patient stay away for at least three days from the public eye or until the infection is completely gone. At home, the patient can also apply cold compress and soothing eye drops 5-6 times a day for relief.
Taking antibiotics can lead to a faster recovery. It can also help limit the spread of the disease in the general population by improving containment. Most antibiotics for bacterial conjunctivitis are effective, so choosing the right medicine is dependent on its availability, side effects, and price as well as what your doctor deems appropriate for your condition.
Generally, conjunctivitis is not a life-threatening infection, and in almost all cases of bacterial conjunctivitis, the infection clears up without any treatment within 10 days. However, it is still very important to consult a specialist to have proper diagnosis and treatment.
Antibiotic treatment is recommended in cases where the patient wants the infection to clear up faster and in cases where the type of conjunctivitis is not acute. There are several ways to treat bacterial conjunctivitis, starting from medications, but there are a lot of home remedies that one could also use to speed up the recovery process.
A warm compress can be applied to the affected eyes to help relieve the symptoms of conjunctivitis like sticky eyes. In the meantime, avoid wearing your contact lenses until the infection clears up.
How long does it last?
Usually, conjunctivitis goes away on its own after a few days or weeks.
In bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotic intake should be able to limit the infection within 24 hours. Even if you do not take antibiotics, a mild bacterial conjunctivitis usually improves within ten days. However, as long as you are experiencing symptoms such as tearing, redness, and crusting, you remain contagious. Such symptoms are likely to improve within a period of 3-7 days.
The following are common characteristics of bacterial conjunctivitis:
- Usually affects one or both of your eyes
- May start with an ear or respiratory infection
- Presence of a thick and sticky eye discharge upon waking up
When to See a Doctor
Most cases of bacterial conjunctivitis do not cause any long-term problems since they tend to get better even without treatment. However, it is important to see a doctor if you experience the following symptoms:
- Very painful eyes
- Blurry vision and other vision problems
- Light sensitivity
- Very red eyes
- Persistent symptoms that do not resolve after one week without treatment or after one day of taking antibiotics.
- Worsening symptoms
- Bacterial conjunctivitis can be easily mistaken for other types of conjunctivitis.
- Conjunctivitis can be easily transmitted from person-to-person, so isolation is highly advised for anyone who has this eye condition.
- In most cases, bacterial conjunctivitis resolves on its own in about 10 days.