UPDATED ON: 31 Aug 2023, 22:58 PM
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What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is a contagious disease that causes your eyes to get red and watery. It generally gets better within 7-14 days of getting the infection. While it usually disappears with medication and practising proper hygiene, some types of conjunctivitis can last for weeks. It is best to get it checked by a doctor and get proper treatment to avoid any complications.

Everything you need to know about conjunctivitis. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Conjunctivitis or pink eye is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva – a thin, clear tissue that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid. While it usually starts in one eye, it can affect both eyes. Some of the common causes of conjunctivitis include exposure to viruses, bacteria, allergies and irritants. Someone affected by the condition may experience symptoms such as redness, itchiness, excessive tearing, a gritty feeling in the eye and a kind of discharge that causes the eyelids to stick together. It can spread from one person to another, but it is not a very serious condition. Practising proper hygiene and taking medication recommended by your healthcare provider is essential to manage the discomfort caused by conjunctivitis.

Causes of Conjunctivitis

The causes of conjunctivitis mainly depend on the type of conjunctivitis that has infected you:

  • Viral conjunctivitis: Viral infections like the common cold are one of the most common causes of conjunctivitis. This type is highly contagious.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis: As the name suggests, this type of conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumonia, or Haemophilus influenza. It can lead to discharge (pus) from the eyes.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis: It affects both eyes and is usually caused by allergens like pollen, dust mites, or certain medication. It usually leads to itching, tearing, and swelling in the eyes.
  • Conjunctivitis caused by irritants: Exposure to irritants such as smoke, chemicals, or chlorine can lead to this type of conjunctivitis. Improper use or contaminated contact lenses can also lead to the problem.
  • Neonatal conjunctivitis: It affects newborn babies due to blocked tear ducts or exposure to maternal bacteria during childbirth.

Key Facts About Conjunctivitis

Major Symptoms
  • Red eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Thick or coloured discharge from the eyes
  • Crusting of eyelids or lashes
  • Blurred vision
  • Discomfort when using contact lenses
Necessary Health Tests

There are no necessary health tests for most types of conjunctivitis. However, you may need a few laboratory tests in case of allergy conjunctivitis.


The best way to treat conjunctivitis is to see a doctor. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis will fade within 7-14 days of getting an infection. In severe cases, the doctor may recommend antibiotic eye drops to clear the infection. In the case of irritant conjunctivitis, the infection will get better by removing whatever is causing it.

Symptoms of Conjunctivitis

As per the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the symptoms may vary on the type of conjunctivitis. There are some common signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis that you should look out for:

  • Redness of one or both eyes
  • Itchiness in the eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Thick or coloured discharge from the eyes
  • Crusting of eyelids or lashes
  • Blurry vision
  • Discomfort when using contact lenses

The infection may show in one eye first and then spread to the other eye as well. Timely intervention is vital to keep these symptoms at bay and keep the infection from becoming more dangerous.

Diagnosis of Conjunctivitis

Not all red or pink eyes mean that you have been infected by conjunctivitis. The diagnosis of conjunctivitis typically involves a thorough eye examination. Your doctor will determine the cause of conjunctivitis that has affected you based on the symptoms you show. While red or swollen eyes are common symptoms of conjunctivitis, it can also show other symptoms based on the type of conjunctivitis. In most cases, a visual inspection helps the medical examiner to determine the cause of the infection. However, eye secretion analysis and other tests may be needed in cases where the patient experiences a discharge.

Your medical examiner may also ask you for fluorescein stating, which is when a special dye is applied to the eyes to check for corneal abrasions or ulcers. Allergy testing is done to determine whether any allergens have led to the condition. Once your doctor knows the type of conjunctivitis that has affected you, they will suggest an appropriate treatment that will help you prevent the complications of the disease.

Treatment of Conjunctivitis

In most cases of conjunctivitis, the infection goes away with medical treatment. Your doctor will recommend the treatment that will help you treat the symptoms of the infection. You may even be recommended home remedies such as applying a warm compress if the infection is viral. They may recommend using eye drops or ointments to treat bacterial infections. It is vital to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by the doctor to ensure the infection is completely cleared.

Also read: Boric acid eye wash for conjunctivitis: Is it a safe and effective treatment?

Your treatment will depend on the type of conjunctivitis that has affected you. However, some preventive tips might help you deal with the symptoms:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes. It can worsen the symptoms that could lead to complications.
  • Do not wear contact lenses until the symptoms subside.
  • Use a clean, damp cloth to clean your eyelids and lashes if there is a discharge.
  • Avoid swimming if you have conjunctivitis.
  • Use a separate towel to avoid contaminated items that other people in your family also use.
  • Avoid sharing personal items with anyone.

Consult a healthcare professional to accurately diagnose the type of conjunctivitis and receive appropriate treatment. They can provide personalised advice and ensure proper management of the infection.

Conjunctivitis Related FAQs

Is conjunctivitis contagious?

Not all types of conjunctivitis, but viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are contagious. The best way to reduce the risk of getting conjunctivitis or spreading it to someone else is by practising good hygiene and taking proper medication.

How long does a conjunctivitis infection last?

In most cases, the infection disappears in 7-14 days, but viral conjunctivitis can last 2 or 3 weeks in some cases. A doctor will prescribe antiviral medication to clear up the infection.

What is a serious form of conjunctivitis?

Most types of conjunctivitis are not dangerous in case of timely intervention. However, bacterial conjunctivitis that affects newborn babies is a serious condition. It could lead to permanent damage if left untreated.

What are the common causes of conjunctivitis?

Some of the most common causes of conjunctivitis include viruses, bacteria, allergies, eye coming in contact with a chemical splash, foreign objects getting in the eye, and a blocked tear duct in the case of newborns.

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