The conjunctiva is the thin, clear mucus membrane that covers the whites of the eye and the inner eyelid. The conjunctiva functions to keep the front of the eye and the inner eyelid moist and well lubricated. This prevents any friction as the eyelids open and close and also protects the eye from dust and other debris and helps to prevent infection in the eye. Conjunctivitis, commonly called pinkeye, occurs when the conjunctiva does become infected and inflamed. Even though the conjunctiva is usually clear, it contains numerous blood vessels and when it becomes infected, these blood vessels dilate giving the eye(s) the well-known bloodshot red color associated with conjunctivitis. Although conjunctivitis is highly contagious, it is easily treated and can often be prevented with a few simple precautions such as thorough hand washing.

Most conjunctivitis is highly contagious and, as such, everyone is at risk for getting it. Because of their close proximity to one another and their tendency to more frequently touch their faces without washing their hands, children tend to be at higher risk of catching conjunctivitis (it tends to spread quickly through schools and daycares) than other age groups. People who work with children are also at a higher risk.


The symptoms of conjunctivitis can vary slightly depending on the type you have. However, the symptoms are annoying enough that they are hard to ignore and fairly easy to identify that conjunctivitis is the cause. It’s no shock that the main symptom is eyes that are red or pink in color regardless of the cause. Other symptoms by underlying cause include: ? Viral Conjunctivitis - itchy, watery eyes and sensitivity to light. Either one or both eyes may be affected. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and may be spread by touching or even through a cough or sneeze. ? Bacterial Conjunctivitis - burning, itchy eyes that have a sticky yellow or green-yellow discharge. The discharge may even be significant enough so that your eyelids are stuck together when you wake up. Either one or both eyes may be affected. Bacterial conjunctivitis is highly contagious and is usually spread through direct contact either person-to-person or through items that have touched the infected eye. ? Allergic Conjunctivitis - itchy, burning, watery eyes that are often accompanied by a stuffy and runny nose. Both eyes are usually affected, but because symptoms are caused by allergies, this is not contagious. Based on the allergen, these symptoms may be temporary (e.g. seasonal allergies) or may linger year-round (e.g. pet dander).

Diagnosis and Conjunctivitis Treatment
While you may be able to self-diagnose yourself with conjunctivitis, a doctor will be able to help you identify the cause and discuss treatment options with you. As with symptoms, treatment also varies depending on the type of conjunctivitis. Viral Conjunctivitis - because this is caused by a virus, there is no medication that can be prescribed. Viral conjunctivitis tends to run its course and resolve on its own within 1 to 3 weeks. A warm, wet washcloth can be applied to the eye(s) several times a day to help relieve discomfort; however, be sure to keep this washcloth away from others since conjunctivitis is so contagious. Artificial tears may also help to relieve symptoms. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day and never share a towel or other items that touch the eye with anyone. Bacterial Conjunctivitis - your doctor will typically prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment and this will generally help to clear the conjunctivitis within a few days. If this is not the case, call your doctor again, as oral antibiotics are sometimes needed for a persistent infection. Allergic Conjunctivitis - Allergy medication or antihistamines can help to alleviate allergies and any conjunctivitis they may cause. Talk to your doctor about the best option for you.
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