The most noticeable symptom of conjunctivitis is the pink appearance of the whites of the eyes. Conjunctivitis may also cause tearing, itchiness or a foreign body sensation. Discharge from the eyes is common. Overnight discharge can result in a crust that seems to glue the eyelashes together. Eyelids may appear swollen, and there may be sensitivity to bright light.
Allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes and is caused by seasonal allergies. Symptoms include inflammation in the eyes, sneezing and nasal discharge. Giant papillary conjunctivitis is a form of allergic conjunctivitis that affects contact lens wearers, people who have an exposed suture in the eye or those who have a glass eye. Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are the infectious types of the inflammation. Symptoms may occur in one or both eyes and may begin after you have had a cold. Chemical conjunctivitis occurs when the eyes are irritated by substances such as chlorine or air pollution. Ophthalmia neonatorum, a type of bacterial conjunctivitis in babies, is caused by exposure to gonorrhea or chlamydia as the baby passes through the birth canal.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is treated with antibiotic eyedrops or ointment. Viral conjunctivitis does not respond to antibiotics, although it may be helpful to use over-the-counter cold medications to help relieve symptoms. While viral conjunctivitis usually resolves on its own, in some cases the cornea may become inflamed, requiring treatment with antiviral eyedrops. Treatment options for allergic conjunctivitis include decongestants, mast cell stabilizers, anti-inflammatory eyedrops, antihistamines or steroids. Applying cool compresses to the eyes can reduce inflammation and itching in many types of conjunctivitis.
Your chances of developing infectious conjunctivitis can be reduced if you wash your hands often, particularly during cold season. Avoid touching your eyes with your hands, as this can spread viruses or bacteria from your hands to your eyes. Regular cleaning of contact lenses can reduce your risk of developing giant papillary conjunctivitis. If you use disposable contact lenses, follow the replacement schedule recommended by your doctor. Mascara and other eye makeup should be replaced often, even if the containers are not empty. Taking allergy medication may help lower your risk of developing conjunctivitis if you suffer from the allergic form of the condition.
Schools may have strict guidelines regarding when children may return to classes if they have been diagnosed with bacterial or viral conjunctivitis. Children may not be allowed to return to school unless they have been using antibiotics for 24 hours or the eyes no longer appear pink. Check with your child's school for information on the pink-eye policy.