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Conjunctivitis - General

Last updated May 20, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is inflammation of conjunctiva of the eye, which is the membrane covering the white region of the eye.

What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Pink Eye
  • Pinkeye

What is General Conjunctivitis? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Conjunctivitis is inflammation of conjunctiva of the eye, which is the membrane covering the white region of the eye
  • There are many causes of conjunctivitis and these can be infectious or non-infectious causes. Infectious Conjunctivitis is a highly contagious eye disorder and a viral infection is the most frequent cause
  • Many types of Conjunctivitis that are caused by microorganisms, are infectious and can spread to other individuals; while those caused by allergens (substances which cause an allergy), are non-infectious
  • In Conjunctivitis, the white part of the eye turns red or pink, and hence it is also known as Pink Eye. The condition may affect either one, or both the eyes, and is accompanied by inflammation, irritation, with watery discharge from the eyes. Under normal circumstances, Conjunctivitis does not affect vision
  • In most cases the symptoms clear spontaneously after a few days. However, Conjunctivitis is treated, based on the factors responsible for causing the condition

Conjunctivitis is classified into the following types:

  • Allergic Conjunctivitis
  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis
  • Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis
  • Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis
  • Herpes Simplex Conjunctivitis
  • Neonatal Conjunctivitis
  • Non-Infectious Conjunctivitis
  • Vernal Conjunctivitis
  • Viral Conjunctivitis

Who gets General Conjunctivitis? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Individuals in any age group are vulnerable to Conjunctivitis, but generally children are more at risk
  • Newborns may acquire the infection from their mothers
  • Both male and female genders are equally affected

What are the Risk Factors for General Conjunctivitis? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factor for Conjunctivitis depends on the cause of the disorder. Some of these include:

  • Contact with a person affected by an infectious Conjunctivitis (bacterial or viral form normally), or the use of infected (shared) items
  • Infectious Conjunctivitis can spread in offices, classrooms, day care centers, crowded spaces, and hospitals. Children at these locations may be at a higher risk
  • Regular use of contact lens (particularly the extended wear variety)
  • Exposure to certain allergens can cause Allergic Conjunctivitis
  • An individual with a family history of allergies, or the presence of certain underlying conditions such as asthma and eczema

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of General Conjunctivitis? (Etiology)

Cause factor depends on the type of Conjunctivitis. A few of these are:

  • Microorganisms like viruses, bacteria, and fungi
  • Environmental factors and allergic substances like dust, pollen, smoke, animal dander, exposure to chemicals, and other pollutants
  • Chronic use of contact lenses; they may also come into contact with many lens solutions, foreign material
  • Exposure to sun, electric arcs used for welding, inadequate drainage of the tear ducts, are lesser contributive agents that could cause Conjunctivitis

What are the Signs and Symptoms of General Conjunctivitis?

Common signs & symptoms of Conjunctivitis are:

  • Itching and redness of the eye(s)
  • Formation of crusts (usually seen in the morning, on waking-up). Sticky eyelids, which are difficult to keep open
  • Occasionally continuous discharge of water from the eyes
  • Eye pain and inflammation; with gritty feeling of sand-like particles inside the eye
  • Blurred vision, light sensitivity (unable to or difficult to work in bright light)

How is General Conjunctivitis Diagnosed?

Conjunctivitis is diagnosed using the following tools:

  • The ophthalmologist or physician performs an eye examination and evaluates the patient’s medical history
  • Slit lamp exam (if necessary), for a detailed study of the eye
  • Examination of conjunctival scrapings; culture to rule out infectious causes
  • Differential diagnosis to eliminate other conditions; since there are several other cause factors for Conjunctivitis

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible General Complications of Conjunctivitis?

Complications may arise if Conjunctivitis is not treated. It is also dependent upon the type of the disorder and its causal factor, and the presence of secondary conditions. The complications include:

  • Prolonged discomfort
  • Corneal scar, ulcer
  • Damage to the eye, loss of vision (this is very infrequent)
  • Spread of infection to other body parts

How is General Conjunctivitis Treated?

Treatment is based on the type of Conjunctivitis, its severity, duration of the disorder, and underlying health factors. Some general management measures include:

  • In most cases, symptomatic treatment clears the ailment; or once the condition that caused the problem is removed (like an allergen), Conjunctivitis resolves on its own
  • Application of warm compress can help reduce discomfort
  • Use of topical antibiotic ointment or eye drops is recommended, for Conjunctivitis caused by microorganisms
  • Use of lubricating drops may soothe the eyes, and are helpful if the eyes remain dry
  • Clean the eye crusts carefully using soft and wet cotton wool
  • Avoid the use of contact lens during this period; wear eye glasses instead

How can General Conjunctivitis be Prevented?

  • Many forms of Conjunctivitis are highly infectious; hence, its best to keep away from work or school if you suffer from the condition
  • Prevent spread of the condition by maintaining hygiene, washing hands regularly, avoiding sharing of pillows, towels, make-up, and by limiting physical contact
  • Prevent aggravation of the condition by staying out of the sun, keeping away from dust and smoke. Also, avoid touching or rubbing the eyes (this may be difficult when the affected individuals are very young children)
  • Stop or restrain yourself from smoking tobacco, or drinking alcohol
  • The condition may be seasonal/periodic and individuals may chronically contract Conjunctivitis

What is the Prognosis of General Conjunctivitis? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • Most forms of Conjunctivitis have an excellent outcome with early diagnosis and treatment of the condition
  • Without treatment, there may be complications and it may cause additional discomfort. In some extreme cases, it may bring about a loss of vision

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for General Conjunctivitis:

Many alternatives medicine therapies, natural therapy, or home remedies are available to ease the discomfort of Conjunctivitis. However, such treatment methods are not a proven science and should not be substituted for a qualified healthcare provider’s medical advice.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 19, 2013
Last updated: May 20, 2018