What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the outer layer of the eye, called the conjunctiva. It can be caused by an infection (a bacteria or a virus) an allergy, like pollen, or an irritant (like shampoo, smoke or chlorinated water).
What causes conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis can be caused by an infection, an allergy, or an irritant like shampoo, smoke or water that’s treated with chlorine.
You can get conjunctivitis in one or both eyes. It often causes the following symptoms.
Pus that looks sticky
Eyelids stuck together, especially in the morning
A gritty or burning feeling
Types of conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis can be caused by allergies, infections or an irritant touching the eye. Infections can be caused by either a virus or a bacteria.
Allergic conjunctivitis can be caused by a reaction to:
House dust mites
Eye make up
Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by different types of bacteria
You can get bacterial conjunctivitis from:
Wearing contact lenses that aren’t clean
Touching your eyes with dirty hands
Using makeup brushes and products that have the bacteria on them already
The main symptom of bacterial conjunctivitis is sticky eyes and discharge.
Viral conjunctivitis is usually caused by the same virus that causes colds. It’s common in adults and children , and it’s very contagious.
One of the main symptoms of viral conjunctivitis is watery eyes.
Sometimes conjunctivitis is a reaction to something that’s irritated your eye, known as irritant conjunctivitis.
You can get it from:
Chlorine in swimming pools
A scratch or from something getting stuck in your eye
Conjunctivitis in babies and children
Conjunctivitis is common in children under 5.
The self-help treatments for babies, toddlers and children are the same as for adults. You may need to bathe their eyes more regularly if they’re very sticky.
If your child has any of the following then it is important to get emergency medical assistance
Unable to see
Breathing very fast, struggling (or working hard) to breath or pausing
Your child is floppy, lethargic or seems very sleepy
They are complaining of a severe pain in their eyes
They are pale, cold to touch
They seem very irritable or they have a high pitched scream
A low body temperature of above 38C in a less than 12 week old baby
If your child is under a month old, has blisters next to their eyes, seems unwell, or you are concerned, talk to a GP immediately.
Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis usually gets better on its own within two weeks.
For more severe symptoms or if the symptoms have been going on for more than 14 days, you can buy antibiotic eye drops that contain the ingredient chloramphenicol. This is available by speaking to your pharmacist.
Irritant conjunctivitis should get better as soon as you get rid of what’s causing it. However, if your eye has been in contact with chemicals such as bleach or acid, then it is very important to seek urgent medical care.
Allergic conjunctivitis often gets better with antihistamine eye drops.Antihistamine tablets can also help, particularly if you are getting other symptoms of hayfever such as a runny nose or sneezing.If you can, avoid the allergen that’s causing it.
How to treat conjunctivitis
To ease the symptoms of conjunctivitis, you can:
Stop wearing contact lenses while you have it
Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
Bathe your eyes with sterile water – soak a cotton pad in cooled boiled water and wipe it gently across your closed eye (and use a new pad for each eye)
Hold a cool compress on your eyes – use a flannel soaked in cold, sterile water
Wash your hands frequently
Is conjunctivitis contagious?
If an infection causes your conjunctivitis, it’s very contagious. It often starts in one eye and spreads to the other.
You can easily pass it on to others by touching your eyes and then touching things around you and spreading the bacteria.
If you have infectious conjunctivitis, you should:
Wash your hands regularly
Avoid close contact with others (but you can still go to school or work)
Don’t share towels or pillows
Don’t share makeup
When to see a GP
If your conjunctivitis symptoms aren’t better after two weeks, speak to a GP. They might prescribe a different type of antibiotic treatment to the ones you can buy.
You should also contact a doctor immediately if you have:
Pain in your eye
A change in your vision
Sensitivity to light
Extreme redness in your eye(s)
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi