If you have experienced symptoms like these, you are not alone. Conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye, is the most common of all eye disorders, and it affects both men and women equally. While the label “pink eye” actually refers to bacterial conjunctivitis, there are a number of other causes, including viruses, allergies, dry eyes, and inflammation of the eyelid. Treatment will depend on the underlying problem so it is important that you know what to look for and when to seek medical attention.
Many different types of bacteria, with some being more dangerous than others, can cause bacterial conjunctivitis. The symptoms include itching, tearing, and red eyes, along with yellow/green drainage. Although this can occur in both eyes, it often begins in one eye, and then may spread to the other. You might also have a swollen lower lid. This type of conjunctivitis should be treated with antibiotics. Most will require prescription antibiotic eye drops for 7 to 10 days. A particularly dangerous eye infection can be caused by the sexually transmitted disease, chlamydia, which requires both eye drops and an oral antibiotic. If your healthcare provider suspects chlamydia, your sexual partner should also be evaluated.
As the name suggests, this type of conjunctivitis is caused by any number of viruses. While symptoms include itching, burning, redness and tearing, the eyes are generally much redder with a viral infection, and the drainage is clear but thick. Both upper and lower lids may also be swollen. Another distinguishing factor is that viral conjunctivitis often is accompanied by either an upper respiratory infection, or with recent exposure to someone else with similar symptoms. Antibiotics are not necessary for this type of infection, however lubricating with artificial tears will ease some of the symptoms. There are also some dangerous viral infections of the eye. If there is any concern that the cause may be related to shingles, or to Herpes type I or type II infections, you should see a healthcare provider immediately because of risk of irreversible vision loss.
Allergic conjunctivitis is just what it sounds like—an allergic reaction to something in the environment. It is often seasonal, commonly occurring in the spring and the fall. The symptoms usually occur in both eyes, and include itching, watery discharge and swollen, reddened eyelids. You might also experience sneezing, a runny nose and an itchy throat. Treating allergic conjunctivitis includes using artificial tears and applying a cool compress. For more severe symptoms, antihistamine drops and sometimes steroid drops can be prescribed, but care should be taken because overuse of these types of drops can also create eye irritation. Over-the-counter oral antihistamines may also help.
Blepharitis is not really conjunctivitis, but an inflammation of the edges of the eyelids. This is common in older adults, and also in younger women who do not effectively remove all eye makeup. It can be treated by applying warm compresses to the eye, and by scrubbing the eyelids with diluted baby shampoo 2-4 times daily. An antibiotic ointment might also be prescribed. Meticulous hygiene practices will help prevent recurrences.
Chronic dry eyes can also cause conjunctivitis. This condition affects up to 30% of the population, especially in those over 40 years of age. It can be caused by an autoimmune disease, but it is also a common result of changing hormones after menopause. The result is a decrease in tear production. People who experience this condition often feel as if they have sand in their eyes. Their eyes feel hot, irritated, gritty, itchy, or like they are burning; and they look red. Sometimes vision seems blurred. If this is left untreated, the eye can be scarred and blindness may even occur. Some medications can cause dry eyes, such as antihistamines, so the first line of defense is to eliminate any medications that may be contributing to the problem. Eye lubricants including gels and ointments, as well as preservative-free artificial tears can be used to moisten the eye and decrease irritation. If symptoms persist, you should see a healthcare provider.
While it is important to identify and treat the underlying cause of conjunctivitis, there are some general tips to keep in mind. First, you should not patch your eye. If you think you have allergic conjunctivitis, be careful to not overuse over-the-counter antihistamine drops, because the problem may get worse and become chronic. If there is sticky drainage on your lids, you should wash the area.
If you have blepharitis, scrub the edge of the lid with diluted no-tears shampoo (baby shampoo). Using artificial tears is always recommended to relieve symptoms and moisten the eye. Warm compresses can be used for infected eyes, and cold compresses for allergies and eye irritation. Also, be careful to avoid rubbing your eyes and make sure to wash your hands so you don’t transfer infections from one eye to another, or to someone else. And finally, if your symptoms don’t improve or you have any question to the cause, seek medical attention.
If you have any concerns regarding red, dry, irritated eyes, come in to see one of our highly trained, board certified medical staff at Patient Care Now Urgent Care. For more information call our Fairless Hills Urgent Care Center at (267) 202-6433 today. We look forward to seeing you!