Understanding Conjunctivitis

by Dr. Robert Benza, MD 3. May 2013 09:27

Conjunctivitis is very common in adults and kids.  Interestingly,  most patients who have a red eye think they have the contagious form of conjunctivitis.  Actually,  conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the membrane (conjunctiva) which overlies the white part of the eye which is the sclera.  There are many causes of conjunctivitis including viral, allergic, bacterial, contact lens induced, traumatic, etc.    All of these can cause one or both eyes to be red.
Viral conjunctivitis, often known as "pinkeye",  is the contagious form.   It typical presents with both eyes being red and the patient may have light sensitivity and possibly tearing or discharge.  These patients look really uncomfortable.   These symptoms often can be preceded by the common cold or sore throat.  The same virus which can cause the commom cold is also associated with viral conjunctivitis.  Children are also a great source for catching this type of red eye.
Allergic conjunctivitis can have similiar symptoms.  However,  itching is the most common symptom of allergic conjunctivitis. The history is very important since the eye appearance may look very similiar to viral conjunctivitis.  Contact lens wearers can also present with redness and discomfort.  Bacterial conjunctivitis can have a fair amount of discharge and may present in one or both eyes. 
Since the treatments may vary,  it is important to follow up with your eye physician if one or both of your eyes are red. Through a good history and exam,  your eye doctor can determine which type of eye drop is the most appropriate. Available drops may include antibiotics, steroid drops, or allergy drops.  Choosing the correct medicine for your specific type of red eye or conjunctivitis will speed the process of recovery.  Remember,  protect those eyes!



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