Bright Sight

Oliver Backhouse, Consultant Eye Surgeon www.cataract.org.uk

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is an inflammation of the eye. It can cause swelling, itching, burning, and redness. The conjunctiva is the protective membrane over the white of the eye and under the eyelids. Conjunctivitis can be caused by bacteria and viruses and so spread from one person to another through direct contact. Allergy and any irritants will also produce a conjunctivitis.

Early on it is usually painless and does not really affect the vision. If there is a watery or sticky discharge from the affected eye or eyes then vision can become blurred. A thick discharge suggests a bacterial infection whereas a water discharge following a sore throat or ‘cold’ may be due to a virus. If due to a bacterial infection it tends to clear on its own over a couple of weeks. Viral causes can take much longer and chronic conjunctivitis is usually caused by an allergy or be part of eyelash inflammation (Blepharitis).

Treatment

In most cases nothing is required apart from reassurance. However if bad a bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic eye drops such as Chloramphenicol or Fucithalmic. These antibiotics will not really help a viral conjunctivitis but are still sometimes given to stop any secondary bacterial infection. Often lubricating ‘artificial tear’ eye drops and cold compressions will sooth a viral conjunctivitis. If the conjunctivitis is felt to be allergic, the mainstay of treatment is to avoid the allergen if known. Antihistamine drops can help but some need to be used for two weeks before they really begin to work. If steroid use is required for allergic causes these must only be prescribed and monitored by an Ophthalmologist.