Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. Conjunctivitis, often called “pink eye,” is a common eye disease, especially in children. It may affect one or both eyes. Some forms of conjunctivitis can be highly contagious and easily spread in schools and at home. While conjunctivitis is usually a minor eye infection, sometimes it can develop into a more serious problem.
Conjunctivitis may be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It can also occur due to an allergic reaction to irritants in the air like pollen and smoke, chlorine in swimming pools, and ingredients in cosmetics or other products that come in contact with the eyes. Sexually transmitted diseases like Chlamydia and gonorrhea are less common causes of conjunctivitis.
People with conjunctivitis may experience the following symptoms:
- A gritty feeling in one or both eyes
- Itching or burning sensation in one or both eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Discharge coming from one or both eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Pink discoloration to the whites of one or both eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
What causes conjunctivitis?
Allergic Conjunctivitis occurs more commonly among people who already have seasonal allergies.
The cause of conjunctivitis varies depending on the offending agent. There are three main categories of conjunctivitis: allergic, infectious and chemical:
- Allergic Conjunctivitis occurs more commonly among people who already have seasonal allergies. At some point they come into contact with a substance that triggers an allergic reaction in their eyes.
- Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis is a type of allergic conjunctivitis caused by the chronic presence of a foreign body in the eye. This condition occurs predominantly with people who wear hard or rigid contact lenses, wear soft contact lenses that are not replaced frequently, have an exposed suture on the surface or the eye, or have a glass eye.
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis is an infection most often caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria from your own skin or respiratory system. Infection can also occur by transmittal from insects, physical contact with other people, poor hygiene (touching the eye with unclean hands), or by use of contaminated eye makeup and facial lotions.
- Viral Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by contagious viruses associated with the common cold. The primary means of contracting this is through exposure to coughing or sneezing by persons with upper respiratory tract infections. It can also occur as the virus spreads along the body’s own mucous membranes connecting lungs, throat, nose, tear ducts, and conjunctiva.
- Ophthalmia Neonatorum is a severe form of bacterial conjunctivitis that occurs in newborn babies. This is a serious condition that could lead to permanent eye damage unless it is treated immediately. Ophthalmia neonatorum occurs when an infant is exposed to Chlamydia or gonorrhea while passing through the birth canal.
Chemical Conjunctivitis can be caused by irritants like air pollution, chlorine in swimming pools, and exposure to noxious chemicals.