What Causes Conjunctivitis?

Pink Eye

Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is the inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the thin, clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelids and covers the white part of the eye. There are several causes of conjunctivitis:

  • Viral Infection: Viral conjunctivitis is the most common form of pink eye. It is typically caused by viruses that are responsible for common colds, such as adenoviruses. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can spread through respiratory droplets, direct contact with infected eye secretions, or contact with contaminated objects.
  • Bacterial Infection: Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, or Haemophilus influenzae. Bacterial conjunctivitis can also be highly contagious and is often characterized by a thick, yellow or green discharge from the eye.
  • Allergies: Allergic conjunctivitis occurs when the conjunctiva is exposed to allergens, such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, or certain medications. It is not contagious and usually affects both eyes, causing itching, redness, and watery discharge.
  • Irritants: Chemicals, pollutants, smoke, or foreign objects that come into contact with the eyes can cause irritation and lead to conjunctivitis.
  • Contact Lens-Related: Improper use or poor hygiene when wearing contact lenses can lead to contact lens-related conjunctivitis. Bacterial or fungal contamination of contact lenses, not following proper lens care, or extended use of contact lenses can contribute to this type of conjunctivitis.

The symptoms of conjunctivitis can vary depending on the cause but may include:

  • Red or pink appearance in the whites of the eyes.
  • Eye itching or irritation.
  • Watery or mucous discharge.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Crusts forming around the eyes, especially upon waking.

Treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause:

  • Viral Conjunctivitis: Viral conjunctivitis is typically self-limiting and clears up on its own within a few days to two weeks. Treatment mainly focuses on alleviating symptoms with warm compresses and artificial tears.
  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Bacterial conjunctivitis may require antibiotic eye drops or ointment to help clear the infection more quickly.
  • Allergic Conjunctivitis: Avoiding allergens and using antihistamine eye drops or oral antihistamines can help manage allergic conjunctivitis.
  • Irritant Conjunctivitis: Removing the irritant and rinsing the eyes with clean, cool water can help relieve symptoms.

If you suspect you have conjunctivitis or experience symptoms of pink eye, it is essential to seek advice from an eye care professional for proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Additionally, good hygiene practices, such as washing hands regularly and avoiding touching or rubbing the eyes, can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis.