What is conjunctivitis and how can it be managed?

What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is a common eye condition that can last for a few days to a few weeks. 

It causes the whites of your eyes to look red or pinkish. However, other conditions can also cause this symptom, including:

  • A burst blood vessel 
  • Blepharitis
  • Dry eye
  • Eyelid problems
  • Ingrown eyelashes

What causes conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is caused by allergies or infection. It happens when the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eyeball becomes inflamed. This causes the blood vessels in the conjunctiva to become more visible. 

Conjunctivitis caused by allergies

Spores, pollen and dust can all irritate the conjunctiva. Conjunctivitis caused by allergies is not contagious.

Conjunctivitis caused by infection

Conjunctivitis caused by a viral or bacterial infection can be highly contagious. It’s important to make sure you maintain good hygiene while infected so you don’t pass it on to anyone else.

Other causes of conjunctivitis

An accident causing a foreign object or chemical to enter your eye can also cause conjunctivitis. Your risk of conjunctivitis is increased if you wear contact lenses.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis

If you have conjunctivitis you may experience some of the following symptoms in one or both eyes:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Burning, gritty feeling 
  • Discharge that crusts over and sticks to your eyelashes, which might make it hard to open your eyes in the morning
  • Itchiness 
  • Watery eyes

Preventing conjunctivitis

You can reduce your risk of conjunctivitis by making sure you wash your hands, especially before putting them near your eyes, such as when applying makeup or inserting contact lenses.

Also, avoid sharing makeup and throw away any makeup that is past its expiry date. Most products have a period-after-opening (PAO) symbol that identifies the useful lifetime of the product after it has been opened.

Change your pillowcase, sheets and washcloths often and wash them in detergent.

Stopping the spread of conjunctivitis

If you have conjunctivitis, you don’t need to stay away from school or work unless you’re feeling unwell. Just practise good hygiene consistently.

Here are some ways to avoid spreading the condition when you’re around other people:

  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes. 
  • Don’t share personal items such as pillows, eye drops, washcloths, towels, contact lenses and contact lens storage containers
  • Wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds

How to manage your symptoms

Stop wearing contact lenses as soon as the condition develops and only start wearing them again once the condition has fully cleared up.

Apply a cold washcloth over your infected eye — make sure you wash the cloth with hot water and detergent after using it. If both eyes are infected, thoroughly wash the cloth in hot soapy water before applying it to the other eye, or use two washcloths.

If you have crust build-up, boil some water, wait for it to cool down a little, dip some cotton wool in and use the damp cotton wool to wipe any crust away from your infected eye. If both eyes are infected make sure you use a different cotton wool ball for each eye.

What is the best treatment for conjunctivitis?

Treatment is generally not needed and conjunctivitis will typically clear up in a couple of weeks on its own. However, in severe cases, antibiotic eye drops may be recommended by your optician or GP. 

If conjunctivitis has been caused by allergies, some of the following medications can be used to treat it:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Mast cell stabilisers 
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) 
  • Topical antihistamines

If you experience pain, sensitivity to light, disturbed vision or intense redness in one or both eyes, seek immediate medical advice.

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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Author Information

Cahoot Care Marketing

Niched in the care sector, Cahoot Care Marketing offers a full range of marketing services for care businesses including: SEO, social media, websites and video marketing, specialising in copywriting and content marketing.

Over the last five years Cahoot Care Marketing has built an experienced team of writers and editors, with broad and deep expertise on a range of care topics. They provide a responsive, efficient and comprehensive service, ensuring content is on brand and in line with relevant medical guidelines.

Their writers and editors include care sector workers, healthcare copywriting specialists and NHS trainers, who thoroughly research all topics using reputable sources including the NHS, NICE, relevant Royal Colleges and medical associations.

The Spire Content Hub project was managed by:

Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager

Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.

Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor

Catriona has an English degree from the University of Southampton and more than 12 years’ experience copy editing across a range of complex topics. She works with a diverse team of writers to create clear and compelling copy to educate and inform.

Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing

Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.