Is conjunctivitis really that contagious?


What is conjunctivitis?

Have you ever woken up in the morning with red, puffy or itchy eyes? Are they seemingly stuck together with ‘sleepy dust’ and are weepy throughout the day? Chances are, if you have faced this, you have had conjunctivitis at some point in your life. A common condition that is often treated with antibiotics or anti-viral medication, conjunctivitis is not always pleasing to the eye. It can leave you wanting to stay inside until it is all cleared up. This month, Opticall Eyecare looks at conjunctivitis and when it may be contagious. 

Viral conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis is a very common eye infection caused by viruses that affect the inner eyelid’s membrane lining and the eyes’ whites. Viral conjunctivitis is typically mild but can take up to 2-3 weeks or longer to clear up, depending on the severity of the infection. In most cases, it will clear up on its own without treatment; however, if it is a more serious form caused by herpes simplex virus or varicella-zoster virus, a doctor may prescribe antiviral medication to reduce symptoms and help speed up recovery time. Antibiotics are ineffective for treating viral conjunctivitis as they can only target bacteria and not viruses.

It is important for those suffering from viral conjunctivitis to regularly clean their eyes with soap and water to prevent re-infection and avoid touching and rubbing their eyes too much. Suppose you suspect you may have viral conjunctivitis. In that case, it is best to see your doctor as soon as possible to get an accurate diagnosis to prescribe the appropriate treatment plan if necessary. Without proper care, this condition can lead to vision problems and even permanent damage, which is

Bacterial conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the outermost layer of the white part of the eye caused by bacteria. It can be contagious, so people with it should take extra precautions to avoid infecting others. Mild cases may get better without any antibiotic treatment and without causing complications. The symptoms usually improve within 2 to 5 days once they appear, and it can take up to two weeks to complete the infection.

When antibiotic treatment is necessary, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics such as eye drops or ointment, which helps reduce symptoms, shorten recovery time and prevent any spread of the infection. In cases where there is significant eye discharge (in the form of pus), antibiotics are recommended as this typically indicates that there may be a more serious condition developing. Antibiotics help treat and cure bacterial conjunctivitis quickly and effectively, averting any severe problems from arising from a delay in treatment.

Signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It can also be due to an allergic reaction or exposure to irritants. Symptoms of conjunctivitis often include a pink or red colour in the whites of the eyes, swelling of the conjunctiva and/or eyelids, increased tear production and a feeling like something in your eye accompanied by an irrepressible urge to rub it. Other symptoms may include itching, irritation and/or burning sensation in the eyes.

If you think you may have conjunctivitis, it is highly recommended that you seek medical help from an optometrist or primary care physician so they can examine your eyes and confirm a diagnosis. In some cases treating conjunctivitis may require antibiotics to eliminate any bacterial cause. However, many cases do not need antiviral treatment since this type of virus usually clears without further complications within 7-10 days. To reduce any discomfort associated with pink eye, it’s advisable to wear sunglasses outside during the day and clean your hands often when touching or rubbing your eyes or face.

Looking after your eyes when you have contracted conjunctivitis

Whilst most cases of conjunctivitis will clear up after a few weeks, it can be essential to get advice from a professional if your symptoms are not going away or your eyes are particularly painful.

When to speak to a doctor

Seeking medical care for conjunctivitis is important to determine the cause of the infection and receive the correct treatment. The type of treatment required depends on the cause, which may be viral or bacterial, and the severity of your symptoms. Early treatment can help reduce symptoms and the risk of conjunctivitis complications. Common signs that you should seek medical care include pain in one or both eyes, sensitivity to light, blurred vision that does not improve when discharge is wiped away, intense redness in either eye, worsening or persistent symptoms despite antibiotic use and a weakened immune system due to HIV infection or cancer treatment.

If left untreated, conjunctivitis caused by certain bacteria can lead to more serious eye infections, such as corneal ulcers, keratitis, and scarring on the surface of your eye. These conditions can require complex treatments, including surgery, which result in lasting vision loss if not properly treated early on. For this reason, it is important to visit a healthcare provider if you experience any of these concerns associated with conjunctivitis to ensure that your condition is properly monitored and treated promptly.

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