What is Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)?
Conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pinkeye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, a clear membrane that covers the outermost layer of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids.
As with many of the more common eye inflammations, conjunctivitis usually looks and feels worse than it is and while the pronounced redness can be quite alarming at first glance, conjunctivitis very rarely causes long term visual damage.
It is, however, a condition that often needs to be diagnosed and treated early as certain types of conjunctivitis are very contagious and any prolonged inflammation of the eyes should be treated with caution to prevent complications and tissue damage.
What are the Symptoms of Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Conjunctivitis is diagnosed with a straight forward eye examination using a slit lamp (a microscope with a light attached that has been specifically designed for eye examinations). Your doctor or optometrist will examine your eye and ask you about all your symptoms in order to rule out other inflammatory eye conditions and diseases that can mimic symptoms of pink eye.
In some cases a sample of the eye discharge may be taken to determine the type of bacteria or virus causing the infection.
What are the Symptoms of Conjunctivitis?
Pinkeye is caused by infections (from bacteria or viruses), allergies, or certain irritants that come into contact with the eye, thus the different types of conjunctivitis tend to cause different symptoms. Symptoms of pink eye may include:
- Tenderness of the eye, or pain (which can be severe in the cases of irritant conjunctivitis)
- Body aches
- Sensitivity to light
- Discomfort in the eye
- Redness of the eye or inner eyelids
- Discharge and teariness
- Discharge may cause eyelids to crust and stick together while sleeping
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Infection usually begins with one eye, but can quickly spread to other eye in cases of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis
In most cases of pinkeye, pain, photophobia and blurred vision are not very common and should they occur it is important to seek medical attention to rule out other diseases such as glaucoma, uveitis, keratitis or even meningitis.
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) in Babies & Children
Newborns are very susceptible to pink eye, especially if the mother has an STD. It is very easy for bacteria or virus to pass through the birth canal into the baby's eyes, thus causing pink eye. Also, some babies are born with a very small tear duct, this tear duct can become blocked and lead to conjunctivitis. Since pink eye is acquired through bacteria, it is important to make sure your baby doesn’t contract it through you or anyone that touches him/her. Pregnant women should get screened for bacteria laden STD’s to ensure the health of their unborn baby.
School aged children seem to be affected by conjunctivitis a lot; this is due to the constant interaction with other children and the lack of proper hygiene knowledge. Alternatively, pink eye is obtained from allergies. Children who have frequent allergic reactions to substances such as, ragweed, pollen, grass and animal dander are at risk. In addition, outside irritants or chemicals like chlorine, smoke, smog, fumes, and soaps can all cause pink eye in children.
What Causes Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)?
Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by allergies, but can also be caused by certain viruses, bacteria and eye irritants.
Common Causes of Conjunctivitis
Allergic Conjunctivitis Commonly occurring in people who suffer from an allergic condition, allergic conjunctivitis can be caused by a number of substances particular to the individual. This type of conjunctivitis often has a seasonal element and occurs more frequently during spring and seasonal changes.
Other common allergens are dust, pollen, cosmetics, perfume, or medication. Allergic symptoms of pink eye often affects both eyes, and severe itchiness and swelling are common.
As the name suggests, viral conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, either contracted through the air or direct contact. Viruses that cause the common cold, acute respiratory infections, or disease such as measles or herpes are often the causes of viral conjunctivitis. A herpes infection is actually quite common, especially the herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores on the lips and mouth area. Exposure to sun and high fevers are triggers for causing these cold sores.
For this reason, it is fairly common to notice other symptoms, such as body aches and upper respiratory symptoms, with this type of conjunctivitis, and it is fairly contagious.
Bacteria such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Haemophilus are the common culprits that cause this type of conjunctivitis which is highly contagious and easily spread, especially amongst children.
Irritant and Chemical Conjunctivitis
Certain irritants to the eye such as flame burns, some plant saps, irritant gases or chemicals, and environmental toxins can all cause irritant conjunctivitis.
Help for Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
The treatment of conjunctivitis depends on the symptoms of pink eye and what caused the condition. While some cases of conjunctivitis disappear without treatment, or are adequately healed with home-care methods, others tend to be more severe and may require more specific diagnosis and treatment. In all cases, soothing techniques such as a warm compress applied to the eye will help to reduce discomfort.
Various Treatments for Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis caused by viral and bacterial infections is usually treated with topical antibiotic ointments or sodium containing eye drops to prevent secondary bacterial infections. In cases where the conjunctivitis is related to herpes simplex, gonorrhea or Chlamydia, special precautions need to be taken, and your physician may even refer you to an ophthalmologist.
In the case of allergic conjunctivitis, your doctor may prescribe oral anti-histamines - however, these may dry the eyes causing further complications. It is important to investigate all possible side effects of any medication your doctor may recommend and make an informed decision on what treatment will best suit you!
Saline eye drops can be used to soothe the discomfort of conjunctivitis as will a warm cloth held over the eyelid. In the case of allergic conjunctivitis it is important to find and remove or distance yourself from the source of the allergy, and you should try not to touch or rub the eyes.
A cold compress will ease itchiness and provide some relief. It is also a good idea to use an eye wash (using purified water) regularly through-out the day to speed up recovery. However, make sure that it is well sterilized before hand and if both eyes are infected, a separate eye washer should be used for each eye, or it should be re-sterilized between each use.
A Holistic Approach
Treating conjunctivitis is important, especially in cases where the condition is severe. If left untreated, conjunctivitis may become a recurrent problem or serious damage may be caused to eye tissue.
For this reason, it is essential to take an active approach towards your health and incorporate natural healing remedies, with a healthy diet and a few immune boosting techniques that will have your eyes looking bright again in no time! The immune system plays an essential role in fighting off any infection and so giving it a helping hand should be your first step of action.
Natural Remedies for Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis, like many eye ailments, is frustrating and bothersome as your eye probably feels twice as large as it actually is and it may feel like your eyelids have turned to sandpaper. Luckily, nature has a few effective herbal and homeopathic remedies that help with overall eye health and swift recovery!
Herbal ingredients such as Aspalathus linearis (Rooibos) and Sutherlandia frutescens are powerful anti-oxidants and help to maintain a healthy supply of blood, oxygen and essential nutrients to the eye – all of which are essential to the rapid recovery from any eye condition.
Another essential herb commonly used for eye health is Vaccinium myrtillus (bilberry) which is used to strengthen eye capillaries, prevent eye-related disease and infection, and restore the eyes to their healthy, bright and problem-free state.
Using Warm Milk & Honey to Treat Conjunctivitis
Honey has amazing anti-bacterial properties. Making an eyewash with warm milk and honey can help to soothe and treat conjunctivitis. Use equal parts of both honey and milk, making sure the milk is warm (not boiling). Mix together the remedy and keep stirring until the honey becomes smooth in the milk. Use an eyedropper and drop 2-3 drops into your eye several times a day. Alternatively, you can use this mixture as a compress. The anti- bacterial properties in the honey and the soothing effects of the milk will start to work immediately and within 24 hours your pink eye should be cleared up.
Tips for Treating Conjunctivitis
In addition, there are a few natural ways to help provide relief and promote faster healing without any unwanted side-effects.
- Add a few drops of honey to your eye wash as honey has antibacterial properties. Honey will also soothe the eye and promote faster healing.
- Grate a potato and place on the affected eye for 15 minutes. Potato is a natural astringent and will help reduce eye inflammation.
- Replace the water of your eyewash or compress with warm milk
- For itchy eyes, try cooled tea bags on the eyes. The tannin in tea will help sooth itchiness and reduce inflammation. Using chamomile tea bags is an even better idea as chamomile is well known as an effective eye tonic.
Tips for the Prevention of Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis is highly contagious and it can easily be spread to your other eye, other people and to yourself again once the initial infection has cleared. For this reason a few precautions should always be taken if you or someone you know has conjunctivitis:
- Don’t share towels, pillows, or washcloths with others, especially if they have conjunctivitis or other viral and bacterial conditions such as cold sores.
- Change pillowcases and wash towels and bedding frequently.
- Use immune system boosters to boost your immune system to help prevent infection as well as to encourage faster healing.
- As much as you may want to, refrain from touching your eyes! If your eyes are itchy, rather use a clean compress for quick relief.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching your eyes.
- Seek medical attention if you develop conjunctivitis when you have a cold sore as herpes simplex related conjunctivitis is a serious condition.
- Discard any make up used when you had conjunctivitis as it may be contaminated and this is an easy way to spread it again.
- If you wear contact lenses, switch to glasses until your eyes have completely healed.
- Wear sunglasses outdoors as sunlight irritates pink eye.