Conjunctivitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the membrane covering the inside of the eyelids and the outer part of the eyeball. Commonly called "red eye", conjunctivitis is generally not serious but can be contagious.
What are the symptoms?
Conjunctivitis causes redness, itching, discharge (watery or thick), crusting that forms overnight, sensitivity to light and gritty feeling in the eyes.
What are the causes?
Conjunctivitis is most often the result of viruses. Conjunctivitis can also be caused by bacterial infections, allergies, chemicals, irritation from contact lenses, or eye injury. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are very contagious. If both eyes are affected, with the predominant symptom being itching and a clear discharge, it is likely that allergies are the cause. A thick, crusty discharge may be the sign of a bacterial infection.
How is it treated?
Conjunctivitis is generally not a serious problem. But it is important to consult your doctor. Bacterial conjunctivitis is generally treated with antibiotic drops or ointment. Like a cold, viral conjunctivitis will usually go away on its own, even without treatment. But eye-drops are often prescribed to help control the symptoms. Conjunctivitis caused by viruses does not respond to antibiotics, but antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve symptoms. Antibiotic drops may be prescribed, nevertheless, to prevent a secondary bacterial infection.
Also like a cold, viral conjunctivitis is very contagious. Coughing or sneezing can spread the infection. Sharing makeup, towels, or anything else that touches the eye may spread the infection. Washing hands frequently and avoiding rubbing the eye can help decrease the risk of spreading the infection to others. Steroid eye-drops should not be used in bacterial or viral conjunctivitis.