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Acute Conjunctivitis

What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is the term used by ophthalmologists to describe inflammation of the conjunctiva.  In ordinary terms, conjunctivitis is simply the most common cause of red or “pink” eye.

The white of the eye is covered by a thin, filmy membrane called the conjunctiva which produces mucus to coat and lubricate the surface of the eye.  It normally has fine blood vessels within it, which can be seen on close inspection.  When the conjunctiva becomes irritated or inflamed, the blood vessels that supply it enlarged and become much more prominent, and the eye turns red.

Symptoms of Acute Conjunctivitis:
  • Discharge and eyelid sticking that is usually worse in the morning

  • Red eye

  • Foreign-body sensation

Acute Conjunctivitis can be:
  • Bacterial (Gonococcal)

  • Viral

  • Herpetic (Herpes Simplex Virus)

  • Allergic (Hayfever) or Vernal/Atopic

Because the conjunctiva is a simple tissue, it responds to all theses stimuli in one way; it turns red.  Infectious causes of conjunctivitis include bacteria and viruses.  Bacterial infections, such as staphylococcus or streptococcus, cause a red eye, which is associated with considerable amounts of pus.  If the amount of discharge from the eye is great, an acute infection is likely, and prompt consultation with an ophthalmologist is advisable.  On the other hand, some bacterial infections are more chronic and may produce little or no discharge except for some mild crusting of the eyelashes in the morning.

Viruses are also common causes of conjunctivitis.  Some viruses produce the familiar red eyes, sore throat, and runny nose of a common cold.  Others may infect only one eye.  Viral conjunctivitis usually produces a watery discharge and lasts from one to two weeks.

Infectious conjunctivitis, whether bacterial or viral, can be quite contagious, so contact with the patient’s tears through used handkerchiefs and towels should be avoided.  Hand washing after contact with the patient helps to prevent spread of the infection.

Allergies tend to cause a type of conjunctivitis, which produces a discharge.  Some kinds of allergies, like hay fever, make merely produce a chronic redness.  Finally environment irritants such as smoke or fumes may cause conjunctivitis.  Any type of conjunctivitis is aggravated by dryness of the eyes.

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