The conjunctiva is the transparent
membrane covering the outer surface
of the eyeball, sometimes called the '
window of the eye'
Conjunctivitis is also known as
"pink eye". It is inflammation of the
conjunctiva. Characterised by discharge,
grittiness, redness and swelling.
Usually viral in origin, but may be
bacterial or allergic; may be contageous.
Sometimes newborn babies develop conjunctivitis as a result of the spread of infection from the mother during birth. Any parent who suspects their newborn baby has conjunctivitis should contact their GP, health visitor or midwife.
Conjunctivitis can also be caused by an allergy. Common allergies are pollen ( hay fever) and dust mites as well as allergies to pets and mould.
Irritation in the eyes can be partially relieved by bathing them with preparations available over the counter from a pharmacist. These often contain witch hazel, which is thought to have soothing properties. Contact lens wearers should remove their contact lenses.
Avoid rubbing your eyes as this makes the inflammation worse. To avoid spreading the condition from one eye to another or to other people( in bacterial conjunctivitis) you should not touch the affected eye. Any towels used to dry the affected eye after washing should not come into contact with the other eye or be used by other people.
The most important treatment for allergic conjunctivitis is to avoid the substance that causes the allergy.
Bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment, which can only be obtained with a prescription from your doctor.
Allergic conjunctivitis is treated with eye drops that contain sodium cromoglicate, which can be obtained with a prescription from your doctor, or bought over-the-counter from a pharmacist (eg Optrex Allergy, Opticrom Allergy). Always follow the instructions that come with the medicine. Generally, the drops should be applied to both eyes four times a day. It is important that eye drops are applied regularly throughout the hay fever season, regardless of how severe the symptoms are on any particular day.
Viral conjunctivitis does not need specific medical treatment and will clear up on its own in two to three weeks.