The conjunctiva is a thin, transparent layer of tissue that lines the eye's inner eyelids and outer surface. When you have conjunctivitis or “pink eye,” the tissue is inflamed. While conjunctivitis is more common in children, it can also happen in adults. Conjunctivitis can be acute or chronic, depending on the cause. Acute conjunctivitis usually goes away in a few days, while chronic conjunctivitis can last much longer or come back again and again.
Conjunctivitis usually does not cause permanent vision problems. However, it can cause damage in rare cases if symptoms are severe and are not properly treated.
In most cases, conjunctivitis is caused by a viral infection, usually from the adenovirus. Viral conjunctivitis is most likely to happen after a cold, flu, or other upper respiratory infection, but it can happen. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and spreads quickly among children at school or daycare.
Another common cause of conjunctivitis is allergies. These can include seasonal allergies or reactions to household allergens such as pet dander, dust, and mold spores.
Other causes of conjunctivitis include:
- Bacterial infection caused by staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria. Like viral conjunctivitis, this form is most likely to occur after a viral illness such as a cold or flu.
- Environmental toxins or chemicals, such as certain preservatives used in contact lens solutions.
- Sexually transmitted diseases from chlamydia or gonorrhea. In adults, chlamydia and gonorrhea are sexually transmitted diseases, but babies can also be born with these conditions. Conjunctivitis is a very dangerous condition in newborn babies and, in some cases, can cause blindness.
Symptoms can vary depending on the type of conjunctivitis. They can affect one or both eyes. In general, people with conjunctivitis might experience some or all the following eye symptoms:
- Watery or pus discharge
- Redness and irritation
- "Matting" of the eyelids because of crusting during the night
- Sensitivity to light
- Mild or severe pain
- Foreign body sensation
Treatments We Offer
Treatments depend on the type of conjunctivitis. Our most common treatments include ointments, eye drops, and cold compresses to help relieve symptoms. Most types of conjunctivitis will get better in one to two weeks with treatment.
If you have conjunctivitis caused by allergies, avoid pollen, pet dander, or other allergens. If you have conjunctivitis caused by toxins, this might mean switching to a different contact lens solution. People with allergic conjunctivitis might also be given antihistamines to help with symptoms.
Adults with conjunctivitis caused by chlamydia are usually treated with medications in pill form, as well as ointments and eye drops. Treatment for this type of conjunctivitis might last for several weeks.
Why Choose Columbia?
Your eye care is our specialty. We can diagnose and treat conjunctivitis to make sure you return to normal as quickly as possible.