Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear mucous membrane that covers the white part of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid. It is the most common eye infection in the United States. Cases may vary from a mild redness with watery eyes to serious infections where vision is impaired or even lost.
Conjunctivitis happens when the conjunctiva becomes infected, usually by a virus or bacteria. It also can be caused by allergic reactions or chemical irritations.
Signs of conjunctivitis are red and irritated eyes. If you have conjunctivitis, you may wake up with your eyelashes stuck together from dried mucus formed during the night. The condition often affects both eyes and causes a gritty feeling. Although vision is usually not affected, your eyes may be very sensitive to light. There is a stickiness of the eyelids. In severe cases the eyelids are swollen. Itching is another common symptom.
Conjunctivitis can be confused with a more serious eye disease known as iritis. That's why it is important to have your eye problem diagnosed and treated by a qualified eye care professional.
It is best to have an examination by your eye care professional to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.
Cleaning the crusting on the eyelids every few hours with a cotton swab soaked in lukewarm water usually helps the eye feel better. Antibiotic eye drops, ointments or other medications may also be prescribed.
Tinted glasses may relieve discomfort from bright light. They can also provide a cosmetic shield for the reddened and swollen eyes. The eye should not be covered by a patch, however, as this can make the infection worse.