Conjunctivitis is inflammation of conjunctiva, a membrane which, covers the inner surface of the eyelids and the eyeball. It is caused by a bacterial or viral infection or by an allergy. Trauma, for example, a scratch to the eye, can cause also a conjunctivitis.


  • The eyes are red and watery
  • Gritty and burning sensation
  • Itching
  • A purulent yellow sticky discharge and the eyelids are sometimes "stuck" together, particularly on waking

Causes of conjunctivitis

Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis can be of infectious, or secondary to trauma such as a foreign body. It can also be caused by an allergy. A foreign body or ocular trauma requires an emergency assessment by an ophthalmologist.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is characterised by red eyes, watery discharge and very itchy eyes and nearly always affects both eyes.
Children affected by conjunctivitis often describe their symptoms as having sand in their eyes.
  • In addition, bright lights and the sun can sometimes aggravate symptoms.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis often presents with allergic rhinitis, especially hay fever related allergies caused by pollens. Isolated episodes can also occur being caused by an allergy to animals, dust, latex, food and many other allergens.
  • Episodes of eczema, cough, asthma and repetitive bronchitis can accompany an allergic conjunctivitis

An ophthalmic assessment

An ophthalmic assessment is sometimes important in order to evaluate the severity of the symptoms. An accurate diagnosis is essential and assessment allows for the correct eye drops to be prescribed and in severe cases steroid drops can be required.

Treatments of a conjunctivitis

An ophthalmologist should assess any persisting red painful eye. Otherwise your GP or pharmacist can assess and advise you on the appropriate treatment required.

Viral conjunctivitis

Viral conjunctivitis does not respond to antibiotic drops and requires regular bathing with cooled boiled water. It can affect one or both eyes and is associated with other viral symptoms of a sore throat, and flu like symptoms.

Bacterial conjunctivitis

Regular antibiotic drops are normally prescribed over a 5 - 7 day period. Regular cleaning with cooled boiled water and meticulous hand hygiene is essential to prevent spread of infection.

Traumatic conjunctivitis

A foreign body or trauma to the eye can cause conjunctivitis: seek medical help from an ophthalmologist.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Topical antihistamine drops usually work alone. Where there are other symptoms such as rhinitis associated with hay fever oral antihistamines may be more effective. Where the cause of the allergy is unknown referral to a doctor that specialises in allergy may be necessary.

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Good hygiene advice

Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are both very infectious therefore the following advice should be followed.
  • Not to rub, poke or touch the infected eye.
  • To avoid touching the unaffected eye .
  • Wash your hands before and after using eye drop medication.
  • Use separate hand towels and face cloths to other members of the houshold.
  • Keep the eyes clean with cooled boiled water.
  • Leave all contact lenses out for the duration of the infection and 7 to 10 days after wards.
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