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.

Symptoms of Conjunctivitis

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:

  • Inflammation, swelling and reddening of the whites of the eyes
  • Tearing or yellow/green discharge
  • Itchiness of the eyes
  • Burning sensation
  • Crusting over the eyelids and eyelashes
  • Blurriness
  • Increased photo-sensitivity

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.

Causes of Conjunctivitis

There are various possible causes of conjunctivitis and the different types of conjunctivitis are infact classified on the basis of the causes.

Infectious Conjunctivitis:

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:

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.

Non-infectious Conjunctivitis:

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.

Neonatal Conjunctivitis:

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.

Remedies for Conjunctivitis

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:

  • Raw juices of certain vegetables have been found to help in the treatment of conjunctivitis. Both carrot and spinach are said to have beneficial properties for easing the symptoms of conjunctivitis.
  • Indian gooseberry juice is also believed to have healing properties that can help to treat conjunctivitis. The juice of the Indian gooseberry, mixed with honey, can be applied to the area twice a day.
  • Like most other conjunctivitis remedies potato peels can't really help to cure the condition, but they can help to provide some relief. Apply a thin layer of potato peels over the eyelids. This should help reduce the inflammation and swelling.
  • Prepare a decoction with some dried coriander in a cup of water. You can use this as an eye wash to treat conjunctivitis.
  • Calendula is an extremely popular herb and can help provide relief irritation caused due to pollutants and allergies. You can try using it in a compress or as an eye-wash to get some relief from the itching and inflammation.

Diet for Conjunctivitis

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.

Suggestion for Conjunctivitis

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.

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11 Conjunctivitis remedies suggested by our users
salt water
suggested by [unspecified] on Sunday, June 10, 2007

nothing like surfing for getting rid of pink eye. next best thing is to bathe the eye in saline solution a few times a day.

suggested by Jill on Monday, May 28, 2007

Put four drops of eyebright tincture (also called Euphrasia)in cold spring water (about 4oz), then dip a soft papertowel (I prefer Viva)into the water and place over eyes, being sure it actually touches the eyes. Same mixture can be applied directly to eyes with a cotton ball or paper towel to remove any sticky gunk. Always wash hands after treating conjunctivitis.

My little cure
suggested by Christie on Thursday, May 24, 2007

i boiled tea water then put two tea bags in the water and fully saturated them. then after a few seconds. pull one tea bag out drain as much water as you can out of it and place on infected eye. when it gets cold use second tea bag and put cold one back into water. do this for a while. it clears up pretty quickly. recommened to keep doing it for a few days to make sure it really is cleared up.

suggested by d on Tuesday, May 15, 2007

For my 3 babies, anytime they had sticky eyes, each time I gave them a breast feed I would squirt some of the milk into both eyes. Let them rest in your arms for a few minutes with a little pool of breastmilk in their eyes. It doesn't bother them at all and will clear up simply after a 2-3 days. If you cannot squirt the milk directly into babies eyes then use a cotton ball with breast milk on it to wipe the eyes. I always found it much quicker to clear up using the breast milk directly into the eyes though.

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