Ho Optometrist

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Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva (kon-junk-TY-va), which is the thin membrane that lines the inside of the eyelids and covers the sclera, or white surface of the eye. Conjunctivitis is often called pinkeye.

Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is an inflammation of the membrane covering the inside of your eyelids and the outer part of your eye. It is generally not serious but can be highly contagious.

Conjunctivitis often feels like you have something in your eye that you can’ t get rid of. There are many causes of conjunctivitis. Viruses are the most common cause. Other causes include:

  • Allergies (allergic conjunctivitis)
  • Bacteria
  • Certain diseases
  • Chemical exposure
  • Chlamydia
  • Fungi
  • Parasites (rarely)
  • Use of contact lenses (especially extended-wear lenses)

“Pink eye” refers to a viral infection of the conjunctiva. These infections are especially contagious among children.

Newborns can be infected by bacteria in the birth canal. This condition is called ophthalmia neonatorum, and it must be treated immediately to preserve eyesight.

Conjunctivitis is generally not a serious problem and often will go away by itself. You should still, however, see your doctor. Chronic conjunctivitis, if left untreated, can cause permanent eye damage.


Treatment varies depending on what is causing the inflammation. Bacterial conjunctivitis is generally treated with antibiotic eyedrops or ointment. Viral conjunctivitis does not respond to antibiotics, but antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve your symptoms. Warm or cool compresses may help reduce itching and swelling.

Drug Therapies

Viral conjunctivitis: Generally, your doctor will let the virus run its course. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral eyedrops, such as acyclovir (Zovirax) or trifluridine (Viroptic). Treatment is supportive and may include ocular decongestants, and artificial tears. Cold compresses applied 3 times daily for 1 – 3 weeks may relieve discomfort.

Allergic conjunctivitis: Your doctor may recommend allergy shots over several months, to reduce your sensitivity to the allergen. Antihistamine eyedrops, such as over-the-counter antazoline phosphate (Vasocon-A) or prescription olopatadine ophthalmic (Patanol), may reduce swelling or itching. An oral antihistamine can help relieve itching. A cool compress may help relieve symptoms, too.

Bacterial conjunctivitis: is treated with antibiotic eyedrops, such as sodium sulfacetamide (Cetamide, Bleph-10), or azithromycin, or ointment such as erythomycin (E-Mycin), bacitracin, or neomycin.

Table 1

Causes of conjunctivitis, and who is primarily affected
Cause of conjunctivitis Newborn babies Children Adults
Viral infection Uncommon Usually affects both eyes Usually affects both eyes
Bacterial infection May be severe and sight threatening May affect one or both eyes. May be severe and sight threatening May affect one or both eyes. May be severe and sight threatening
Chlamydia Can cause conjunctivitis of the newborn Causes trachoma, which usually affects both eyes Usually affects both eyes
Allergy Uncommon Usually affects both eyes Uncommon
Chemical irritants/traditional eye remedies Uncommon Can affect one or both eyes Can affect one or both eyes

« Ocular Disease

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