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:
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.
If you have conjunctivitis you may experience some of the following symptoms in one or both eyes:
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.
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:
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.
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:
If you experience pain, sensitivity to light, disturbed vision or intense redness in one or both eyes, seek immediate medical advice.
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