Healthy Living

What is Bacterial Conjunctivitis?

What is Bacterial Conjunctivitis?

Key Takeaways

Bacterial conjunctivitis can easily be mistaken for other types of conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis can be transmitted easily from person to person, so isolation is highly advised for anyone suffering from this condition.

In most cases, bacterial conjunctivitis will resolve itself in about ten days.

What is Bacterial Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the palpebral, or bulbar, part of the eye. There are many types and many causes for conjunctivitis. One of the most common types of conjunctivitis is bacteria that is transmitted from the hand through the rubbing of the eyes. In most of the cases, bacterial conjunctivitis is acute and it is not risky for the life of the person that has it. Nevertheless, people that have this type of conjunctivitis usually get days off work or school because, as all other types of conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis is easily transmitted from one person to the other.

The bacteria responsible for this kind of conjunctivitis are contracted because of Haemophilus influenza, Streptococcus pneumonia, Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria can spread through nasal expulsions in the air and from the hand touching the eye.

The Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a disease transmitted sexually and is the cause of hyperacute conjunctivitis.

Chlamydia trachomatis is the primary reason for chronic conjunctivitis; other bacteria can also attack severely ill or hospitalized patients and cause this type of conjunctivitis.

This type of conjunctivitis is an infection of the mucous membrane of the eye, also known as the conjunctiva. The acute form of this conjunctivitis is primarily due to Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus aureus or Haemophilus influenza. These organisms can easily spread through contact, for example, hand to the eye or through the nose. Hyperacute bacterial conjunctivitis is caused primarily due to Neisseria gonorrhea and that is a disease that is sexually transmitted. This type of conjunctivitis is riskier for the patients and needs a special form of treatment. The last subtype of bacterial conjunctivitis is the chronic type and the primary cause of this type is Chlamydia trachomatis.

There are several risk factors for bacterial conjunctivitis, these include, but are not limited to:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Poor hygiene of the contact lens or their containers
  • Chronic use of medications
  • Old or contaminated cosmetics
  • Eye diseases
  • Compromise of the immune system
  • Contact with contaminated person

The easiest way to protect yourself from bacterial, or any other type of conjunctivitis is to make sure that you wash your hands regularly, that you use your own contact lens, contact lens containers, your own makeup and makeup brushes, never sleep in someone else’s bed and use their pillows/pillow cases, and make sure you don’t have any physical contact with people that have any signs of conjunctivitis.

There are many signs that can show that a person has bacterial conjunctivitis. Signs include, but are not limited to:

  • Redness in the eyes
  • Burning sensation in the eyes
  • Irritation
  • Stinging
  • Discomfort
  • Tearing
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Intolerance to contact lens
  • Blurred vision


  • Acute viral conjunctivitis
  • Swollen or red eyes, called Blepharitis
  • Allergic conjunctivitis
  • Conjunctivitis caused by chemicals or toxins.

Viral conjunctivitis is very hard to tell apart from the bacterial kind. The best way is to test viral and bacterial culture even if tests are not 100 percent correct. Cases have come to light of bacterial conjunctivitis with viral infection. 

The symptoms at first sight that can differentiate bacterial and viral infection can be:

Even though doctors think these symptoms might indicate viral conjunctivitis, recent research does not fully support this hypothesis. Another study posited that, in fact, only three symptoms or signs were significant in distinguishing between bacterial and viral conjunctivitis. The aforementioned signs were earlier episodes of itchiness and conjunctivitis which clearly indicated viral conjunctivitis. Also, sticking together of the eyelids after sleeping at night, which indicated bacterial conjunctivitis.

How to Manage Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Most instances of acute bacterial conjunctivitis are limited and usually clear up in ten days without any medical intervention. On the other hand, some contagions can be the cause of chronic signs and colonization. Also, there has been a significant reduction of symptoms and rapid removal of organisms from the conjunctiva after treatment with antibiotics.

General treatment

Being a very contagious infection, bacterial conjunctivitis patients should be told to wash their hands properly and maintain clean 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 3 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 five to six times a day for relief.

Medical Treatment

Taking of antibiotics can lead to a much faster clearing of the infection and this can help reduce the spread of the disease in the general population by improving containment. Most antibiotics have been seen to be similar in effectiveness, so choosing the right medicine is dependent on availability, side effects and price, as well as what your doctor deems appropriate for your condition.

Conjunctivitis, generally, is not a life-threatening infection and in almost all cases of bacterial conjunctivitis, the infection should clear without any treatment within 10 days. Nevertheless, it is very important to consult with a specialist so you can be sure that the type of bacterial conjunctivitis you might have is acute. Antibiotic treatment is recommended in cases where the patient wants the conjunctivitis to clear faster and in cases where the type is not acute. Since bacterial conjunctivitis is highly contagious, it is recommended to have proper hygiene and to stay away from other people for at least 1 to 3 days. At that time it is the best if the patient isolates themselves in a clean environment that is away from other people.

There are several ways to treat bacterial conjunctivitis, starting from medications, but there are a lot of home remedies that one could use to speed the recovery process. Washing the eye with solutions like milk and honey or boric acid with water can make the infection clear faster and it can decrease the symptoms. Nevertheless, it is better to follow doctor's instructions so that you will be sure that once the infection is gone, it will never appear again.