What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. Conjunctivitis, often called “pink eye,” is a common eye disease, especially in children. It may affect one or both eyes. Some forms of conjunctivitis can be highly contagious and easily spread in schools and at home. While conjunctivitis is usually a minor eye infection, sometimes it can develop into a more serious problem.

What are the symptoms?

People with conjunctivitis may experience these symptoms in one or both of their eyes: an itching or burning sensation, excessive tearing, discharges, swollen eyelids, pink discoloration to the whites of the eyes, or increased sensitivity to light.

What causes conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis can sometimes be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, derived in some cases from poor hygiene (touching the eye with unclean hands), especially when one has the common cold and readily spreads those germs into the eye. It can also occur due to an allergic reaction to irritants in the air like pollen and smoke, chlorine in swimming pools, and ingredients in cosmetics or other products that come in contact with the eyes. Some people who wear hard or rigid contacts too long, or do not replace soft contact lenses often enough, may experience this condition.

How is it diagnosed?

Conjunctivitis can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. Testing, with special emphasis on evaluation of the conjunctiva and surrounding tissues, may include: looking at patient history, measuring visual acuity, evaluation of the conjunctiva and external eye tissue, and evaluation of inner structures of the eye.

How is it treated?

Mild to moderate conjunctivitis will usually clear up on its own, but if treatment is required, it is largely dependent on the cause: bacterial conjunctivitis may require prescription antibiotic eye drops; allergic conjunctivitis may be treated with prescription eye drops containing antihistamines; viral conjunctivitis will have to run its course, but symptoms can be treated with cool compresses, artificial tear solutions, and topical prescription steroid drops.