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Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is an inflammation of the membrane covering the inside of your eyelids and the outer part of your eye. It is generally not serious but can be highly contagious. Conjunctivitis often feels like you have something in your eye that you can’t get out.
Signs and Symptoms
Conjunctivitis causes the following symptoms in one or both eyes:
What Causes It?
Conjunctivitis is most often the result of viruses, such as those that cause the common cold. Other causes can be bacterial infections, allergies, chemicals, irritation from contact lenses, or eye injury. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are very contagious. Some studies suggest that the severity of the disease is significantly associated with sun exposure.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you have conjunctivitis in both eyes, with itching and a clear discharge, allergies are likely the cause. Viral or bacterial conjunctivitis usually begins in one eye and then spreads to the other. Swollen glands and a watery or mucousy discharge usually indicate a virus, while a thick, crusty discharge may be a sign of a bacterial infection.
Your doctor may diagnose conjunctivitis from looking at your eye and asking you about your symptoms. Your doctor may also use a slit lamp for closer examination, or gently swab a stain across the surface of your eye.
Conjunctivitis is generally not a serious problem and often will go away by itself. You should still, however, see your doctor. Chronic conjunctivitis, if left untreated, can cause permanent eye damage.
Treatment varies depending on what is causing the inflammation. Bacterial conjunctivitis is generally treated with antibiotic eyedrops or ointment. Viral conjunctivitis does not respond to antibiotics, but antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve your symptoms. Warm or cool compresses may help reduce itching and swelling.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies can help relieve your symptoms. But you must make sure that any solution or compress you put on your eye is sterile. Remember, too, that you can spread conjunctivitis from one eye to another, so don’t touch your other eye while treating the affected eye. If you have a mild case of conjunctivitis, start with compresses. For a moderate case, use a compress and an eyewash that comes pre-mixed in a sterilized package or from a competent herbal practitioner.
Nutrition and Supplements
Use the following supplements, taken by mouth for up to one week, to strengthen your immune system and help you heal faster, only under your doctor's supervision. Consult a pediatrician for children's dosages.
The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider trained in botanical medicine. Compresses and eye washes are external treatments.
A trained herbal practitioner may prescribe an herbal eyewash. The following are some examples of the herbs used in these treatments. Do not attempt these treatments on your own. You should use these treatment only under the supervision of a trained practitioner.
Other herbal treatments may include:
Although very few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider the following remedies for the treatment of conjunctivitis based on their knowledge and experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account your constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for each individual.
Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are both very contagious. Family members should use separate towels. Wash your hands often. Keep children home from school and day care.
Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice about using any medications, especially if you have been given antibiotics or corticosteroids. If you wear contact lenses, keep them clean to avoid further irritation and future infections. Do not wear them until your eyes have healed.
People with allergic conjunctivitis sometimes develop a severe form with a stringy discharge, swollen eyelids, scaly skin, and significant discomfort. This needs aggressive treatment to prevent scarring of the cornea.
In most U.S. hospitals, a medication such as silver nitrate is routinely administered to the eyes of newborns to prevent conjunctivitis from developing from bacteria in the birth canal.
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Review Date: 3/2/2012
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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