So, just what is conjunctivitis?
Let’s begin with what the conjunctiva is. Your conjunctiva is the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of your eyelid, and covers the white part of the eye (the sclera).
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or swelling of the conjunctiva. A viral or bacterial infection can cause conjunctivitis, as can an allergy, or irritation.
There are however lots of other, common eye infections. If you’re not sure, it’s best to seek the advice of a healthcare professional. Your local Community Pharmacy will be able to take a look at your eye infection, and recommend treatment. If it’s necessary, he or she will advise you to go to your GP for further treatment.
How common is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is a common problem. With children, and with the close contact they enjoy others at school and nursery, you shouldn’t be surprised or alarmed if you find your kids waking up with sticky red eyes.
What are the symptoms of conjunctivitis?
Symptoms include red eyes and a watery discharge. The eyes may feel ‘gritty’ and the eyelashes can have a sticky coating, particularly first thing in the morning. Conjunctivitis can affect one eye at first but usually it quickly spreads to both eyes. Symptoms can last from 2 days to 3 weeks.
How is conjunctivitis treated?
The treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause. It usually gets better without any treatment within a week or two.
Infective conjunctivitis can be caused by either a virus or bacteria, and is very contagious. It can be difficult to distinguish between a viral and bacterial eye infection. In adults, the cause is usually viral; while in children the cause tends to be bacterial.
Eye drops containing the antibiotic chloramphenicol (eg Optrex Infected Eye Drops) are available over the counter to treat bacterial conjunctivitis. They can be used on children from two years old. The product should be used for five days and, as with any antibiotic, it is important to complete the course.
You can help relieve the symptoms of conjunctivitis by gently clearing away the discharge from the eye with a cotton ball soaked in warm water. Clean in one direction only, moving the cotton ball from the inside to the outside of the eye. Use a separate cotton wool ball for each eye.
Using a clean cold cloth over closed eyes can relieve irritation and swelling.
Good hygiene can help to prevent the spread of conjunctivitis. Washing your hands regularly and not sharing pillows or towels will help prevent it spreading.
Try to discourage your child from rubbing their eyes (as much as this may feel like you’re talking to a brick wall…). You shouldn't need to stay away from work or school if you or your child has conjunctivitis, unless you (or they) are feeling particularly unwell.
If there are a number of conjunctivitis cases at your child's school or nursery, you may be advised to keep them away until their infection has cleared up.
Always consult your pharmacist in relation to your individual symptoms. If you suspect that you or your child has conjunctivitis – or indeed if you’re concerned about any aspect of your health – your local Community Pharmacist is a great person to speak to first.
He or she is a highly trained, qualified healthcare professional. In many cases, they’ll be able to diagnose your condition, and provide you with medication to treat it (if necessary). They’ll be able to answer questions you may have, and if it’s required, direct you to your GP or hospital for further treatment.