Conjunctivitis (aka red eye) is a pretty irritating eye condition which causes inflammation, itchiness and general discomfort all around the eyeball. It can spread like wildfire through schools or the workplace, and can endure several weeks before symptoms finally pass, leaving you healthy and seeing comfortably once more.
One of the most common problems with conjunctivitis has to do with self diagnosis: the majority of people are unaware that there are in fact 3 different, prominent strains of conjunctivitis – not all are contagious and they are each contracted in different ways, with treatment options unique to each case.
Since self-diagnosis can often do more bad than good, it is imperative that you undergo a professional eye exam to accurately define your condition.
The blanket term “conjunctivitis” or “red eye” is often used to describe the general symptoms of any strain of the illness, but the specific details of each case are outlined here to avoid confusion.
Bacterial – This is probably the form of conjunctivitis with which you are the most familiar – it’s more common than the other two strains in kids and is highly contagious, often sweeping through schools until almost every child has experienced the illness. It is usually transmitted through hand-to-eye contact and there are a few different types of bacteria which can trigger the start of an outbreak.
Viral – Just as contagious as the bacterial strain, viral red eye can spread extremely quickly and is carried by a string of different viruses including those responsible for the flu, common cold and other respiratory infections.
Allergic – Unlike with the bacterial or viral strain, those suffering from allergic conjunctivitis are not contagious. It is caused by some external stimulus which triggers the allergic reaction and is very common among those who suffer from seasonal allergies like hay fever.
The most common and obvious symptom of conjunctivitis is the redness and inflammation of the conjunctiva, aka the thin layer overlying the whites of your eyes. However, other symptoms include:
Generally speaking you are only putting yourself at risk of developing conjunctivitis by being in close proximity to a substance to which you are allergic, or to someone who is already struggling with viral or bacterial conjunctivitis.
Treatment varies from patient to patient, although in general it is sufficient to use cool compresses to alleviate discomfort and provide a little extra moisture to the eye. If this is ineffective, Dr. Mast may prescribe eye drops or supportive therapy to help manage symptoms. For the more severe cases of bacterial conjunctivitis, it may be necessary to use antibiotic eye drops or oral antibiotics. Finally, proper hygiene is important in limiting the spread of infectious conjunctivitis.