Conjunctivitis is one of the most common eye infections in children and adults. Often called “pink eye,” it is an inflammation (swelling) of the conjunctiva, the tissue that lines the inside surface of the eyelid and outer coating of the eye. This tissue helps keep the eyelid and eyeball moist.
Conjunctivitis can be caused by a virus, bacteria, irritating substances (shampoos, dirt, smoke, and especially pool chlorine), allergens (substances that cause allergies) or sexually transmitted infections. Pink eye caused by bacteria, viruses, and sexually transmitted infections can spread easily from person to person, but is not a serious health risk if diagnosed promptly.
The symptoms of conjunctivitis include the following:
See your ophthalmologist (a doctor trained to treat eye conditions) or family doctor if you have any of these persistent symptoms. Ear infections also commonly occur in children who have bacterial conjunctivitis. The ophthalmologist will examine your eyes and possibly take a sample of fluid and cells from the eyelid with a cotton swab. Bacteria or viruses that may have caused conjunctivitis can then be seen through a microscope or grown in culture for identification.
Being around a person who has conjunctivitis and wearing contact lenses may increase your risk of getting conjunctivitis, but the outcome is usually very good with treatment. Washing your hands thoroughly can help prevent the spread of infectious conjunctivitis.
Please note that eyes can become re-infected. Call your doctor if symptoms return or if vision decreases after being treated.
Take these measures to relieve the symptoms of conjunctivitis:
Non-prescription “artificial tears,” a type of eye drops, may help relieve itching and burning from irritating substances. (Note: Other types of eye drops may irritate the eyes and should not be used). Do not use the same bottle of drops in the other eye if it is not infected.
If your child has bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, keep him or her home from school or day care until he or she is no longer contagious.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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