Conjunctivitis, also commonly referred to as pinkeye, is an inflammatory condition that affects the eyes. To be more specific it affects the conjunctiva, which is how it takes its name. The conjunctiva is actually a membrane that covers the whites of the eyes and the inner surface of the eyelids. This membrane contains tiny blood vessels that only become visible when inflammation sets in. This is why the whites of the eye appear red when you are afflicted with conjunctivitis. As alarming as the condition may appear, it is usually not very serious threat and poses little to no risk of long term damage.
Conjunctivitis can be a source of significant discomfort however, and it is quite a problem because of the ease with which it can spread. Misconceptions and myths spread and perpetuated through ignorance and a lack of education unfortunately compound the problem. The notion of conjunctivitis being spread through eye contact with an infected person's eyes is as preposterous as the notion of leprosy being a curse from god! The truth is that there are different types of conjunctivitis and while some may be spread rather easily others are not contagious at all.
Conjunctivitis may be caused by different factors and could be of different types. Depending on the underlying cause and the type of conjunctivitis, the symptoms that appear may vary. Symptoms that are generally observed include:
See your eye doctor if you have any of these symptoms of pinkeye. Your eye doctor will conduct an exam of your eyes and may use a cotton swab to take a sample of fluid from the eyelid to be analyzed in a lab. Bacteria or viruses that may have caused conjunctivitis, including those that can cause a sexually transmitted disease or STD, can then be identified and proper treatment prescribed.
There are various possible causes of conjunctivitis and the different types of conjunctivitis are infact classified on the basis of the causes.
Infectious conjunctivitis may affect just one or both eyes and is caused by an infection. The cause of the infection could be bacterial or viral and the condition is referred to as viral or bacterial conjunctivitis accordingly. Both types of infections are very contagious and they are spread through close contact either directly with the eye secretions of an infected person or through contact with contaminated surfaces. Whether caused by a bacterial or viral infection the condition can spread rapidly affecting all age groups and both genders. Bacterial conjunctivitis is however a lot more common in children as compared to in adults. This also explains the inefficacy of self treatment with antibiotic eye drops in adults, as most cases in adults are viral and will not respond to antibiotic treatment.
Allergic conjunctivitis as the name suggests is caused as an allergic response because of contact with an allergen or irritant like pollen, smoke or various other substances. Typically therefore it would manifest in both eyes. In response to an allergen your immune system produces antibodies called immunoglobulin, which eventually causes a release of inflammatory substances, histamines included. The symptoms associated with allergic conjunctivitis are therefore caused because of your immune system's reaction to allergens.
Like allergic conjunctivitis, this variation of the condition is caused by exposure to certain irritants. In this type of conjunctivitis however, the symptoms are not caused due to any immune reaction, but due to irritation from the offending substance itself. This could include irritation and inflammation that develops as a result of exposure from a chemical splash or a foreign object in the eye. Flushing the eyes to get rid of such irritants can also contribute to the irritation and redness.
This type of conjunctivitis is not uncommon in mothers who suffer from STDs like chlamydia. If left untreated the infection can even result in blindness.
Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis:
Giant papillary conjunctivitis is a type conjunctivitis that specifically afflicts contact lens users, affecting both eyes, and it is most common in soft contact lens wearers.
Conjunctivitis is not a serious health risk and in many cases may actually require no treatment at all. Home remedies for conjunctivitis can come in handy though as they can offer some relief from the symptoms. Keep in mind that most alternative treatments for conjunctivitis are not backed by scientific studies and some may in fact have been proven to be ineffective. There are at the same time some natural methods of treatment that have been found to be extremely effective. Exercise caution whilst using any home remedy and do your own research or consult with your health care provider before trying out any remedy that you are not completely sure of.
The appropriate treatment for conjunctivitis would quite naturally depend upon the underlying cause. Here are some common steps that you can take to help relieve the symptoms in most cases of conjunctivitis however:
Warm Compress: You can soak a wash cloth in warm or hot water and wring it out before applying it over your eyes. Make sure that the cloth you use is free of any lint and never use the same cloth on both eyes. If conjunctivitis has affected just one eye, this reduces the risk of it spreading to the other.
OTC Drops: Eye drops that are available over the counter can also offer considerable relief. Make sure you only choose eye drops for relief rather than trying to use anti-bacterial eye drops. Using antibiotics, whether tablets or drops, when not needed can increase the risk of bacterial resistance significantly. Eye-drops containing anti-histamines on the other hand can be extremely helpful for individuals afflicted with allergic conjunctivitis.
Other natural remedies that are said to be helpful but are not supported by scientific data include:
Your diet has little to do with a conjunctivitis infection so there is little that you can do to treat it by means of dietary modifications. Nutritional intake is however an important determinant of your eye health, which is why it is important to follow a well balanced and nutritious diet. Take particular care to include foods that are rich in nutrients that are essential for your eye health such as vitamin A. Fresh fruits are not just great sources of vitamin A, but will also provide you with other essential nutrients like the B group of vitamins. Foods rich in vitamin A are pumpkin, green leafy vegetables yoghurt, butter, tomatoes, papaya and of course, carrots. If the conjunctivitis is of the infectious type, caused by a bacterial or viral infection your immune system plays an important role in the treatment and recovery process. A weakened immune system will delay recovery and also leave you vulnerable to future infections and recurrences. Include plenty of citric fruits in your diet for a high intake of vitamin C to boost immunity.
Infectious forms of conjunctivitis can be spread rather easily which makes personal hygiene one of the biggest concerns when dealing with the disease. This will help ensure that the infection does not spread to others or to your other eye, if not already infected. Close personal contact increases the risk of a spread, so if you work in an environment or at a task that involves close contact with others it may be best to simply stay home for a few days. While conjunctivitis does not impair functioning in most cases, it can in rare cases pose a risk especially if the presence of any other health condition causes complications to arise. Make sure that you avoid scratching or touching your eyes and always make sure you wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer after touching the eyes. Surfaces that could be contaminated should also be disinfected to avoid spreading the infection. Never share towels or handkerchiefs, and make it a point to throw away tissues after each use.