Conjunctivitis is an inflammation/swelling of the conjunctiva. Depending on the causative agent, conjunctivitis can be contagious.
The conjunctiva is the transparent membrane that layers the sclera. Once infected or exposed to an irritant/allergen, it may swell and become itchy. Due to the blood red cells that become visible, a pink discoloration will form in the eyes.
The condition is common among school-going children. It is in most cases mild, resolving within a week or two.

Also Known As

Pink eye


  • Bacterial conjunctivitis
  • Viral conjunctivitis   
  • Chemical conjunctivitis
  • Allergic conjunctivitis


Causes and Risk Factors

The cause of conjunctivitis is dependent on the type as follows:

  • Viral conjunctivitis

This type is caused by a virus. In most cases, the virus is usually the same one also responsible for common cold. Viral conjunctivitis is contagious.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis

Like viral conjunctivitis, this type is infectious. The most common bacteria responsible are streptococcus and staphylococcus. In rare cases, gonococcus and chlamydia can also cause conjunctivitis. These are transmitted sexually but can also be passed to the fetus through the birth canal. Due to this, newborns develop a condition referred to as ophthalmia neonatorum.

  • Allergic conjunctivitis

It can be caused by allergens such as pollens, dust mite, pet dander, or smoke. Some individuals also develop allergies after prolonged use of contact lenses. 

  • Chemical conjunctivitis

Chemical conjunctivitis is caused by chemical irritants such as chlorine, fumes, cosmetics, or some eye drops.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Reddish or pinkish discoloration of white part of the eyes
  • Itchiness
  • Swollen conjunctiva (puffiness)
  • Excessive tearing
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye crusts that can cause sticking of eyelids together



A comprehensive eye exam should be able to properly diagnose for conjunctivitis. It may involve the following:

  • Taking the patient’s history
  • Visual acuity test to check for any defects in vision
  • Evaluation of the conjunctiva using bright light
  • Supplement testing- Involves taking smears from the conjunctiva for testing in a lab



Treatment of conjunctiva is geared towards providing relief to symptoms such as pain and inflammation. It is also aimed at preventing the spread of the infection.

Medical Treatment

Viral conjunctivitis will usually not require any medication. Just like common cold, it clears up on its own within a few days. Eye doctors will, however, prescribe antibiotics in the form of drops, pills or ointments for bacterial conjunctivitis.
Antihistamines and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are issued in the case of allergic conjunctivitis. Topical steroids may also be used where chemical irritants are involved.

Home Care

Home care treatment can apply in mild cases. Remedies depend on the cause as follows:

  • For infectious conjunctivitis, a warm compress on the eye for a few minutes can ease pain. This can be done three to four times daily until symptoms subside.
  • For allergic conjunctivitis, cool compresses can help relieve symptoms.
  • For chemical irritants, flushing the eyes with saline is recommended.


Prognosis/Long-term outlook

It is highly unlikely that conjunctivitis will damage vision. The condition clears up in about 7 to 14 days. In rare cases, it can cause corneal damage.

Prevention/Follow Up

Preventive measure for conjunctivitis include:

  • Avoid contact lenses
  • Wash hands with soap and water before touching infected eyes
  • Do not rub/touch infected eyes
  • Clean eyeglasses regularly
  • Avoid environmental conditions with allergens or irritants
  • Throw away old makeup or contact lenses after infection
  • Regular eye check ups