In this section
Conjunctivitis is a common
eye infection, especially among children under five. It
is an inflammation (swelling and redness) of the
conjunctiva which is the clear membrane that covers the white
part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids.
Conjunctivitis can be
caused by an infection (virus or bacteria) which is highly
contagious, or by an allergic reaction which is not
A person with conjunctivitis will remain
infectious as long as there is a discharge from their eye.
Conjunctivitis can be
caused by an infection (virus or bacteria) or by an allergic
reaction. It is not always clear which type
of conjunctivitis is present, because both
cause redness and swelling of the conjunctiva. Symptoms usually develop within 24 to 72 hours of
becoming infected and last from two days to three
Both eyes are almost always
infected with bacterial conjunctivitis, although it may start in just one eye. There is likely to be a gritty feeling and pus.
Conjunctivitis from a virus
may involve one or both eyes, causing red itchy eyes with a 'weepy' discharge.
There will often be other signs of hay fever if the inflammation is the
result of an allergy. Signs can include an itchy, runny nose and sneezing or a history of other allergic
conditions. The eyes are itchy and watery.
There is no specific
treatment and it will get better on its own. Gentle cleaning of the
eyes with cotton balls soaked in warm water may help them feel
better. Clean in one direction only (either towards the nose from
the outside in, or away from the nose, whichever is easier). Discard the cotton ball each time to prevent recontamination. DO
NOT try to clean inside the eyelids as this may cause damage to the conjunctiva.
This form of conjunctivitis may need antibiotic
ointment or drops prescribed by a doctor. Treatment should be applied to
both eyes, even if only one eye appears to be infected.
Sore, inflamed eyes due to allergies may be helped by treatments used in conditions such as hay fever, eg antihistamines.
Developed by the RCH Short Stay
Unit. First published July 2008. Updated November 2010.
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