Conjunctivitis: Dos and don’ts

With Kemi Olatunde
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or swelling of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye.Child with pink eye.

Often called “pink eye,” conjunctivitis is a common eye disease, especially in children. It may affect one or both eyes. Some forms of conjunctivitis are highly contagious and can easily spread in schools and at home. While conjunctivitis is usually a minor eye infection, sometimes it can develop into a more serious problem.

A viral or bacterial infection can cause conjunctivitis. It can also develop due to an allergic reaction to air irritants such as pollen and smoke, chlorine in swimming pools, ingredients in cosmetics, or other products that contact the eyes, such as contact lenses. Sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea are less common causes of conjunctivitis.

People with conjunctivitis may experience the following symptoms:

A gritty feeling in one or both eyes

Itching or burning sensation in one or both eyes

Excessive tearing

Discharge from one or both eyes

Swollen eyelids

Pink discoloration to the whites of one or both eyes

Increased sensitivity to light

There are three main types of conjunctivitis: allergic, infectious and chemical. The cause of conjunctivitis varies depending on the type.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis occurs more commonly among people who already have seasonal allergies. They develop it when they come into contact with a substance that triggers an allergic reaction in their eyes.

Giant papillary conjunctivitis is a type of allergic conjunctivitis caused by the chronic presence of a foreign body in the eye. People who wear hard or rigid contact lenses, wear soft contact lenses that are not replaced frequently, have an exposed suture on the surface of the eye or have a prosthetic eye are more likely to develop this form of conjunctivitis.

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Infectious Conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis is an infection most often caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria from your own skin or respiratory system. Insects, physical contact with other people, poor hygiene (touching the eye with unclean hands), or using contaminated eye makeup and facial lotions can also cause the infection. Sharing makeup and wearing contact lenses that are not your own or are improperly cleaned can also cause bacterial conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by contagious viruses associated with the common cold. It can develop through exposure to the coughing or sneezing of someone with an upper respiratory tract infection.

Ophthalmia neonatorum is a severe form of bacterial conjunctivitis that occurs in newborn babies. This is a serious condition that could lead to permanent eye damage if it is not treated immediately. Ophthalmia neonatorum occurs when an infant is exposed to chlamydia or gonorrhea while passing through the birth canal.

Chemical Conjunctivitis

Chemical Conjunctivitis can be caused by irritants like air pollution, chlorine in swimming pools, and exposure to noxious chemicals.

Conjunctivitis can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination.

Its treatment

Conjunctivitis Eye Care

The appropriate treatment for conjunctivitis depends on its cause:

Allergic conjunctivitis. The first step is to remove or avoid the irritant, if possible. Cool compresses and artificial tears sometimes relieve discomfort in mild cases. In more severe cases, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines may be prescribed. People with persistent allergic conjunctivitis may also require topical steroid eye drops.

Bacterial conjunctivitis. This type of conjunctivitis is usually treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments. Bacterial conjunctivitis may improve after three or four days of treatment, but patients need to take the entire course of antibiotics to prevent recurrence.

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Viral conjunctivitis. No drops or ointments can treat viral conjunctivitis. Antibiotics will not cure a viral infection. Like a common cold, the virus has to run its course, which may take up to two or three weeks. Symptoms can often be relieved with cool compresses and artificial tear solutions. For the worst cases, topical steroid drops may be prescribed to reduce the discomfort from inflammation. However, these drops will not shorten the infection.

Chemical conjunctivitis. Careful flushing of the eyes with saline is a standard treatment for chemical conjunctivitis. People with chemical conjunctivitis also may need to use topical steroids. Severe chemical injuries, particularly alkali burns, are medical emergencies and can lead to scarring, damage to the eye or the sight, or even loss of the eye. If a chemical spills in your eye, flush the eye for several minutes with a lot of water before seeing your medical provider.

 It is important that Contact lens wearers  temporarily stop wearing their lenses while the condition is active.


Practicing good hygiene is the best way to control the spread of conjunctivitis. Once an infection has been diagnosed, follow these steps:

Don’t touch your eyes with your hands.

Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.

Change your towel and washcloth daily, and don’t share them with others.

Discard eye cosmetics, particularly mascara.

Don’t use anyone else’s eye cosmetics or personal eye-care items.

Follow your eye doctor’s instructions on proper contact lens care.

You can soothe the discomfort of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis by applying warm compresses to your affected eye or eyes. To make a compress, soak a clean cloth in warm water and wring it out before applying it gently to your closed eyelids.

For allergic conjunctivitis, avoid rubbing your eyes. Instead of warm compresses, use cool compresses to soothe your eyes. Over-the-counter eye drops might also help.

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President, Nigerian Optometric Association (NOA), Dr. Ozy Okonokhua last Monday warned against the use of urine, breast milk, acid among others in the treatment of Conjunctivitis.

He made the call according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja .

Okonokhua frowned at such practices, saying that it was harmful to the eyes.

He however, urged the populace to seek help from trained and licensed professional optometrist when infected with any eye problem.

He said; “Apollo is a virus that is self-limiting which means it cannot be cured with local medicine or self-medication.

 “It is a viral infection enhanced by dryness more common during the dry season and the bacteria infection which is secondary is best treated with antibiotics,” he said.

The president further advised the populace to imbibe the habit of regular hand washing to avoid contracting viral and bacterial infection of the eye

Similarly, Dr Njong Onugu, Head of Eye care Unit, Public Health Department of Health and Human Service Secretariat, Abuja identified Apollo as a common eye problem that affect people of all age and has no cure.

Onugu said that healthcare workers have high risk of exposure to viruses that could cause viral conjunctivitis.

The eye care specialist however, urged the public to maintain proper hygiene by washing their hands thoroughly before and after applying eye drops on infected persons.

 “You must avoid sharing of towels, cosmetics or eye-drops with others that are affected as this can predispose you to it.

 “Infected children should be distanced from schools, camps and swimming pools until they are cured,” Onugu advised.” She advised.

additional information: WWW.aoa.org


Safety of school children, our priority- ODSG

Conjunctivitis: Dos and don’ts

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