Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the delicate skin which covers the white of the eye underneath the eyelids (the medical term for this is the conjunctiva or the conjunctival membrane).
Some or all of the following symptoms may be present:
A gritty feeling in the eyes, just under the eyelids
Burning, itchy eyes that discharge heavy, sticky pus – eyelids may stick together upon waking in the morning as mucus has dried on the eyelashes and lids overnight
Excess tear production
Swollen lymph nodes
This condition usually clears up after a few days. Conjunctivitis can be highly contagious but it is not serious if detected and treated early.
Bacterial conjunctivitis (“pinkeye’), usually affects both eyes and produces a heavy discharge of mucus.
Allergic conjunctivitis produces tears, itching, and redness in the eyes, and sometimes an itchy, runny nose.
The most common cause of conjunctivitis is irritation to the eye from allergens such as dust mites, moulds, animal fur and chemicals such as pool chlorine. The eyes become irritated, causing the sufferer to rub the eyes, making them even more irritated!
Young children or babies may suffer from conjunctivitis following a cold or sore throat. Additionally, conjunctivitis commonly occurs in babies if the tear ducts are not fully developed or if the baby’s eyes are exposed to bacteria during the birthing process.
Bathing the eyes with sterile saline solution is usually sufficient to keep the eyes clean and prevent the condition from spreading.
Adults may also find relief through taking golden seal and eyebright in tablet or capsule form, although this is not suitable for small children except under professional supervision
Horseradish, fenugreek and garlic may relieve the congestion associated with allergic conjunctivitis
An eyewash using chamomile, or fennel tea bag may be effective in relieving conjunctivitis symptoms – pour boiling water over the herbs and allow to steep for 20 minutes before removing tea bag; dip cotton balls in the cooled liquid and use them to soothe and wash the eyes. Use the eyewash 2-3 times per day, making a fresh batch each time to avoid contamination.
If dust or irritants have caused the problem, flushing the eyes with fresh cool water to remove them will help.
Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are highly contagious. Unless you take preventive measures, the condition may spread to your other eye or to other people.
Practice good hygiene by washing your hands often and well, and keeping them away from the infected eye.
Avoid sharing bedding, towels, face washers or handkerchiefs with other family members.
Children with infectious conjunctivitis should be kept home from school.
Always use eye protection when cycling, swimming, or using industrial materials such as chemicals or powdered cement.
Keep your home clean and well-ventilated to reduce the build-up of dust mites and mould.
Consult your healthcare professional if
Your eyes become red when you wear contact lenses
The redness in your eye is affecting your vision
Your conjunctivitis recurs frequently or appears to be getting worse after a week of home treatment
Your new-born baby’s eyes are inflamed and are not producing tears