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What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctiva is the clear covering which coats the white of the eye and lines the inner part of the eyelids.

Soreness and redness of the conjunctiva is called conjunctivitis.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Signs and symptoms vary slightly according to the cause of conjunctivitis. However none of these causes of conjunctivitis affect the vision.

Types of conjunctivitis:

  1. Bacterial conjunctivitis :
  • Red eyes.
  • Thick discharge (whitish or yellowish).
  • Sticky eyelids (especially noticeable on waking up).
  • Usually starts in one eye and goes to the other.
  • Often last for a week.
Photograph of eye with bacterial conjunctivitis
  1. Viral conjunctivitis :
  • Red eyes.
  • Slight watery discharge (mainly excessive tearing).
  • Usually starts in one eye and goes to the other.
  • May last for two weeks or longer.
Photograph of eye with viral conjunctivitis
  1. Allergic conjunctivitis :
  • Red eyes.
  • Itchiness of eyes and sometimes the nose, if associated with allergic rhinitis.
  • Discharge that stings (usually mucus discharge).
  • Associated with excessive tearing.
  • Affects both eyes at the same time.
  • May last for a long time.
Photograph of eye with allergic conjunctivitis

How can it be treated?

It is important to consult your doctor to find the cause and to get the appropriate treatment.

Bacterial conjunctivitis :

  • Frequent application of antibiotic eye drops and ointment.
  • Gentle and frequent cleansing of eyes is helpful.

Viral conjunctivitis :

  • Self limiting, does not require specific treatment.
  • Gentle and frequent cleansing of eyes is helpful.
  • Sometimes antibiotics eye drops given to prevent secondary bacterial infection.

Allergic conjunctivitis :

  • May be a chronic condition.
  • Requires anti-histamine or mast cell stabilizer eye drops to control allergy and to relieve itchiness.
  • Sometimes may require oral anti-histamine.

Other measures :

  • Wash / wipe the discharge away with warm water.
  • Avoid contact lenses wear till symptoms subside.

Prevention of spread

Conjunctivitis due to infections by bacteria or virus can spread easily.

The following measures can limit the spread :

  • Avoid touching the affected eyes.
  • Wash hands regularly especially after touching eyes.
  • Avoid crowded places or sending your child to school / child care center till redness and discharge subside.
  • Do not share face towels / cosmetics / eye drops / eye ointments.
  • Throw away the eye drops and eye ointments once symptoms subside.
Last reviewed : 10 Mei 2012
Content Writer : Dr. R. Sukumar a/l Rajaretnam
Reviewer : Dr. Salmah bt. Othman