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Commonly known as pink-eye or red-eye, conjunctivitis is a highly contagious, bacterial or viral infection of the conjunctiva. This is the fine layer of protective tissue that covers the white part of your eye and lines the inside of the eyelid. It is important to know how your pink eye is caused in order for it to be treated properly and promptly to alleviate symptoms and speed healing.

Viral Conjunctivitis

This is highly contagious. It can appear in one eye, and be passed to the other easily. Symptoms will usually last 10-12 days from early onset and will first present with red, irritable eyes. It is advised that you avoid touching your eyes, shaking hands, or sharing towels or pillows after being diagnosed and/or while experiencing symptoms. Although viral conjunctivitis can be caused by a range of viruses, transmission is the same. Accidental exposure from unwashed hands or direct contact of an infected person’s upper respiratory fluids (like tears) will almost certainly spread the virus.
Symptoms Include:

  • Itchy, red eyes
  • Tearing
  • Light sensitivity

Diagnosis of viral conjunctivitis can be made by your optometrist and treatment commonly involves medicated eye drops to soothe your symptoms while waiting for the virus to retreat.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Bacterial Conjunctivitis is an infection in the eye that can first present as viral conjunctivitis. If left untreated this becomes bacterial and can threaten the overall health of your vision. Symptoms of both forms of conjunctivitis are similar, but have a few key differences:

  • An increased amount of discharge from eyes that is discoloured and thick
  • Eyelid edema (swelling of the eyelid)

It is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible when experiencing these symptoms. You will be given an antibiotic and topical treatments to alleviate discomfort. As with viral conjunctivitis, it is important to refrain from touching your eyes, to wash your hands frequently and to avoid others while infected.

Environmental, or Allergic Conjunctivitis

This non-contagious version of pink eye is caused by environmental, airborne triggers such as hay fever or pollen, although individual reactions may differ. Symptoms can come and go based on exposure to triggers, typically by season; seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC).
Unlike viral or bacterial manifestations, diagnosis of this particular type of pink eye is often done by evaluating your medical history and with careful observation. Because the onset of symptoms are primarily due to exposure to these allergens (known or unknown), trial and error often ensues until a definitive cause is identified.
Treatment consists of a variety of medical interventions in the form of ingested or topical antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and in some cases, corticosteroids.

Written by Dr. Scott Mundle

A University of Waterloo graduate (class of 1983), Dr. Mundle became a partner with Henderson Vision Centre just one year later. Dr. Mundle has been an integral part of Henderson Vision Centre ever since.
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