Conjunctivitis is a very common, painful condition of the eye. Medically speaking, conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the conjunctiva or the transparent membrane that covers the white part of our eyeball.
In this condition the blood vessels of the sclera, or the white part, swell and turn red giving the pink coloration of the eye and hence the name ‘Pink eye’. There are several types of conjunctivitis where some of them are common while some of the types are not that common.
Causes of Conjunctivitis
Each of the different types of conjunctivitis has their own sets of causes but basically the cause is reaction to different types of irritants, allergens and germs.
This is a common cause of most of the cases of conjunctivitis. Even viral diseases like common cold and respiratory infections can lead to conjunctivitis. Forms of adenovirus can cause a form known as epidemic kerato conjunctivitis which is a highly contagious form of the condition and get easily transmitted from person to person.
There are several types of conjunctivitis that are caused by bacterial infections and there are several types of bacteria that can cause the condition. However, the commonest of them are the staphylococci and streptococci.
Herpes Simplex virus
This is not a very common cause but can be serious if contacted. This condition is painful than most of the other forms and is caused particularly by the herpes simplex type 1 and type 2 virus. While type 1 affects the adults, the type 2 virus usually is a cause in herpes simplex conjunctivitis in infants.
This is another of the common causes of conjunctivitis. There are several types of materials in the air and allergic reaction varies from person to person. So they may react to pollens, dust, perfumes, airborne chemicals, aerosol or even detergent. Seasonal or vernal conjunctivitis is also caused by such allergens, however, in these cases the causes are generally related to allergens that can be found seasonally and in most cases it is the pollen of flowers that bloom during the spring and summer months. Peculiarly, these seasonal allergens have been found to affect the males more than the females.
Deposits from Contact Lenses and Prosthetic
This is the cause behind giant papillary conjunctivitis. The deposits formed on the surface of the soft contact lenses may react with the conjunctiva to cause irritation and allergy. The case is similar with all other eye prosthetics and the result can be similar.
Some people may be allergic to some types of eye drops and show the conditions of conjunctivitis. Most of the times, the cause of such problems are the preservatives used in the eye drops and overuse of such drops.
Sexually Transmitted diseases
This is sometimes the cause behind some forms of neonatal conjunctivitis. Usually the mothers suffering from gonorrhea and Chlamydia are the ones who run the risk of infecting their new born with such forms of conjunctivitis.
There are several other causes like irritants, allergies to contact lenses, etc. which can cause reddening of the eye and inflammation of the conjunctiva. However, they are usually non-infectious and can be easily treated.
Symptoms of Conjunctivitis
Though there are some common symptoms of conjunctivitis, other symptoms may vary according to the type of conjunctivitis that a person has.
Common Symptoms of Conjunctivitis
Some symptoms may be noticed in all the forms of conjunctivitis irrespective of what has caused them.
This is the commonest of all symptoms and is caused by the swelling and reddening of the blood vessels in the white portion of the eye ball.
Irritation and Itchiness
This is the other symptom that is common to all forms of conjunctivitis. The person suffering from even the mildest and most harmless types of conjunctivitis will get this. Generally, such irritation is also accompanied by excess production of tears which is a natural reaction of the body against irritation.
Type Specific Symptoms
The different types of conjunctivitis can show their own individual characteristic symptoms apart from the common ones. Here is a list of such type specific symptoms.
1. Viral conjunctivitis – watery discharge and itchiness usually in one or both eye.
2. Herpes Simplex conjunctivitis –burning sensation and pain of severe nature, development of blisters on the eyelid and conjunctiva.
3. Bacterial conjunctivitis – watery eyes, green and yellow discharge, swelling of the eye.
4. Allergic conjunctivitis – swelling of the eye, heavy watery discharge and itchiness in both eyes from the beginning. Only redness and irritation in case of eye drop conjunctivitis.
5. Vernal conjunctivitis – burning sensation in the eye, irritability to bright light (photo-phobia), bumps underneath the eyelid, swelling and roughness of the cornea.
6. Giant papillary conjunctivitis – very large amount of discharge, red bumps appear on the underside of eyelids, irritability in wearing contact lenses.
7. Epidemic Keratoconjunctivitis – photo-phobia and swollen lymph nodes, blurring of vision.
Treatment of Conjunctivitis
Treatment of conjunctivitis depends generally on the type of conjunctivitis a patient is suffering from. In the normal cases no such treatment is needed. only rinsing the eye with clean, plain water is enough and the conditions die down by themselves after a week or two.
Treatment for Viral Conjunctivitis
The treatment for this condition is generally aimed at soothing the irritation as no medication can actually act against the virus. The virus generally runs its course and goes away after that.
Treatment for Bacterial Conjunctivitis
This is a form of conjunctivitis where antibiotics work. Though several over-the-counter medicines are available, it is better to consult the doctor for evaluation of the severity and prescription of appropriate drugs.
Treatment of Allergic Conjunctivitis
Apart from using soothing eye drops for getting relief from irritation and itchiness, the removal of allergens is also necessary for treatment of this condition. In some serious types anti-histamines may be prescribed and in most of the cases these are in the form of eye drops.
In the other types of conjunctivitis the treatments may rage from warm compress to remove the discharges and the residue of these discharges to application of mild steroids in severe cases of conjunctivitis.
The risk factors of conjunctivitis include –
1. Exposure to allergens, especially those which are air borne should be avoided by people who are generally allergic to various substances.
2. Infected people suffering from bacterial or viral form of the condition should be extra careful not to spread the disease.
3. The use of contact lenses for a long time. The lenses should be cleaned and replaced periodically to avoid the condition.