Eyes/Ears/Nose/Throat: Conjunctivitis


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Conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye,” is a common condition that causes inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, which is the thin transparent tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. This ophthalmic condition can affect one or both eyes and occurs most frequently in children.

Signs and Symptoms

The following signs and symptoms of conjunctivitis may be apparent in the affected eye(s):

  • Eye pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Crusty, yellowish formation on the eyelids
  • A gritty feeling in the eye
  • Increased tearing or discharge
  • Itching or burning sensation
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Pink or red discoloration in the whites of the eye
  • Increased sensitivity to light

Causes/Common Triggers

Conjunctivitis may be classified into three main categories: infectious, allergic, and chemical/irritant. Infectious conjunctivitis is caused by a bacterial or viral infection, an allergic reaction, or exposure to an irritant such as a chemical, pollen, or smoke. Infectious conjunctivitis is very contagious. Other causes of conjunctivitis may include extended use of contact lenses, fungi, and certain diseases.

Tests and Diagnosis

If you suspect that you have conjunctivitis, your doctor may conduct a thorough eye exam, examining the conjunctiva and surrounding tissues very closely. Your doctor will also ask about your symptoms and general health history.


Since bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are very contagious forms and can be secretions or through contact with a contaminated object, the most effective preventive measure is the practice of good hygiene, especially through frequent hand washing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. A number of lifestyle modifications can also prevent the transmission of infectious conjunctivitis:

  • Keep your hands away from your eyes.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Wash pillowcases, sheets, washcloths, and towels in hot water.
  • Don’t touch your eyes with your hands.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
  • Change your towel and washcloth daily, and do not share them with others.
  • Do not share eye cosmetics.
  • Don’t use anyone else’s personal eyecare items.
  • Handle and clean contact lenses properly.
  • Replace eye cosmetics regularly.
  • Don’t wear your contacts until your eyes are better, and use a new pair after the infection is resolved.
  • Follow your eye doctor’s instructions on proper contact lens care.


In addition to maintaining proper hygiene, you can alleviate any discomfort caused by viral or bacterial conjunctivitis by applying warm compresses using a clean washcloth to your affected eye or eyes. For allergic conjunctivitis, avoid rubbing your eyes and use cool, not warm, cloth compresses to soothe your eye(s).

Treatment and Care

The treatment selected depends on the cause. In general, the main goals in treating conjunctivitis are to provide the patient with relief from symptoms, eradicate the infection and/or inflammation/irritation, and prevent the transmission of bacterial or viral conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis is typically treated with antibiotic ophthalmic drops. Viral conjunctivitis typically will disappear on its own. Allergic conjunctivitis may respond to various ophthalmic drops that contain antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, or decongestants. Your doctor will determine the best treatment for you and may also suggests the use of warm or cool compresses.

Homeopathic and Alternative Remedies

Some patients with conjunctivitis rely on alternative forms of treatment, including herbal remedies and homeopathic medicine. Alternative remedies may include the following:

  • Applying a compress to the affected eye
  • Nutritional supplements such as vitamin C and zinc
  • Herbal therapy, including chamomile, fennel seeds, and plantain
  • Homeopathic remedies, including Apis mellifica, Argentum nitricum, and Pulsatilla

To prevent potentially harmful interactions or contraindications, patients should always check with a pharmacist or physician before taking any supplements or alternative therapies. If you have bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, you should always see your doctor for treatment.


Some OTC products such as artificial tear products, antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, or decongestant eyedrops can provide relief from some of the symptoms associated with conjunctivitis. However, there may be restrictions on how often or how long these products can be used as well as potential drug interactions and contraindications. A pharmacist can provide advice or recommendations based on your specific preference and individual symptoms.

Educational Resources for Patients

  • American Optometric Association
  • Mayo Clinic
  • Cleveland Clinic

Resources for Health Care Professionals

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • The Merck Manual Professional Edition
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