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Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is a fairly common eye disorder. (Read about "The Eye") It can spread from person to person and affects millions of Americans, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin protective membrane that lines the inner eyelids and covers the white of the eye.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) says there are three main types of conjunctivitis:
While they have different origins, all types cause redness, swelling, itching, even discharge and blurred vision.
Infectious conjunctivitis is caused by a contagious virus or bacteria. (Read about "Microorganisms") It addition to the redness and swelling, it can produce white or yellowish pus or discharge that may cause the eyes to stick shut in the morning.
Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by the body's allergies to things like pollen, dust, animal hair, cosmetics and fabrics. It can cause a clear or watery discharge. (Read about "Pollen Allergies" "Dust Allergies" "Animal Dander")
Chemical conjunctivitis is caused by environmental irritants like air pollution, noxious fumes and the chemicals in swimming pools.
The best way to treat allergic and chemical conjunctivitis is to avoid what is causing it. If that isn't possible, prescription or over the counter eye drops may help to relieve the discomfort. Infectious conjunctivitis, if it is caused by a bacterial infection, can be treated with antibiotic eye drops. (Read about "Antibiotics") But if it is caused by a viral infection, antibiotics won't help; only your body's immune system can heal it. (Read about "The Immune System") If the conjunctivitis is allergic, there are several different types of eye drops that can help. They fall into different categories, including antihistamines, decongestants, mast cell stabilizers, steroids and anti-inflammatory drops.
Infectious conjunctivitis is very contagious so proper hygiene is essential if you or someone you know is infected. To help control the spread of conjunctivitis, AOA offers these tips:
Although it can be uncomfortable, conjunctivitis is usually not painful and does not adversely affect your vision. It often clears up on its own without treatment, according to NEI. However, some forms can worsen and develop into something more serious, even causing corneal inflammation and vision problems. So you'll want to see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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