Infective Conjunctivitis

infective conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis means inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin covering (like a very thin skin) that covers the white part of the eyes and the inside of the eyelids.

What causes conjunctivitis?

Infection is the most common cause. Allergy is another common cause. For example, many people with hay fever (an allergy to pollen) have red and inflamed conjunctiva.

Common infective conjunctivitis

Most cases of infective conjunctivitis are caused by common bacteria and viruses - often the same ones that cause coughs and colds. Rarely, infective conjunctivitis is more serious.

For example:
Conjunctivitis may develop in addition to keratitis (infection of the cornea). This is most commonly due to an infection with the herpes virus (the cold sore virus). A virus called adenovirus can sometimes cause a serious and prolonged conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis in newborn babies can be caused by germs called chlamydia or gonorrhoea.

What are the symptoms of common infective conjunctivitis?

  • The whites of the eyes look inflamed, and red or pink.
  • The eyes may feel gritty and may water more than usual.
  • Some mild soreness may develop, but it is not usually very painful.
  • The eyelids may become swollen, and are often stuck together with gluey material (discharge) after a sleep.
  • Vision is not normally affected. You may get some blurring of vision due to discharge at the front of the eye.

What is the treatment for common infective conjunctivitis?

Not treating is a common option for mild or moderate infections. The tears contain chemicals that fight off bacteria. Without treatment, most cases of infective conjunctivitis clear on their own within 1-2 weeks, and often within 2-5 days.

  • Bathing the eyes with cool clean water may be soothing.
  • Lubricant eye drops may reduce eye discomfort.
  • An antibiotic eye drop or ointment may be prescribed in some cases.

Other general advice

  • Do not wear contact lenses until symptoms have completely gone, and for 24 hours after the last dose of any eye drops or ointment.
  • You can clean secretions from eyelids and lashes with cotton wool soaked in water.
  • Infective conjunctivitis is contagious. The likelihood of passing it on is not high unless you are in close contact with others. However, until the infection has gone, to help to prevent passing it on:
  • Wash your hands regularly, particularly after touching your eyes.
  • Do not share towels, pillows or utensils.

See a doctor if symptoms change, or do not settle within a few days, or if you are concerned that you have anything other than a common conjunctivitis. In particular, see a doctor urgently if:

  • You develop marked eye pain.
  • Light starts to hurt your eyes (photophobia).
  • Spots or blisters develop on the skin next to the eye.
  • Your vision becomes affected.
  • Your newborn baby develops conjunctivitis.

Does a child with conjunctivitis need to stay off school?

It is not necessary to exclude a child from school or from childcare if they have infective conjunctivitis, unless there is an outbreak of several cases.

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