Conjunctivitis is, generally, an inflammation or infection of the thin, transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid. Some forms are highly contagious, but it is usually a minor eye infection, very treatable. Conjunctivitis can also be an allergic reaction to pollen, smoke, chlorine, cosmetics, etc. or to the chronic presence of a foreign body in the eye, even overuse of contact lenses.
There are three main categories of conjunctivitis – allergic, infectious and chemical. The appropriate treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause. In all cases, the doctor is seeking to make the patient more comfortable and to lessen the infection or inflammation. If a case of conjunctivitis is contagious, such as pink eye, the doctor will want to prevent the spread of the infection.
The first step to treating allergic conjunctivitis is to remove or avoid the irritant, if at all possible. Then, your doctor will want to make you as comfortable as she can with cool compresses and artificial tears. But in more severe cases, you may need medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and antihistamines. If the condition is persistent, your doctor may prescribe steroid eye drops.
Bacterial conjunctivitis responds quickly and well to antibiotic eye drops or ointments. Viral conjunctivitis, however, just has to run its course. There are no medications that treat this virus. The patient can be made more comfortable with cool compresses and artificial tear solutions, and for very bad cases, topical steroid eye drops can reduce inflammation.
Chemical conjunctivitis can be very serious and may require emergency medical attention. In less severe cases, the eye should be flushed well with saline and treated with topical steroids.
If you are a contact lens wearer and develop conjunctivitis, remove and do not wear your contact lens until you see your doctor. If the condition developed because of your contact lens, your doctor may change your disinfection solution or even prescribe a different contact lens.
Whether or not your case of conjunctivitis is contagious, it is always a good idea to wash your hands well and frequently, don’t touch your eyes with your hands, don’t rub your eyes, don’t share towels or wash cloths with others, follow instructions on proper contact lens care and don’t use anyone else’s cosmetics or personal eye care items. If your case of conjunctivitis is infectious, your eye doctor will ask you to discard your eye cosmetics.
In any case, if you are experiencing conjunctivitis, call your eye doctor to properly diagnose the cause and prescribe the appropriate treatment.