Conjunctivitis is a very common eye condition that many people get and it is often called pink eye or red eye. It affects the conjunctiva, which is the top layer of tissue that covers the surface of the eye. Symptoms can include; inflammation, redness, itchiness, eye watering, and a sticky layer on the eyelashes/eyelids which can dry and become crusty, especially overnight. Conjunctivitis normally affects both eyes.
There are 3 main types of conjunctivitis;
Allergic conjunctivitis – This is caused by an allergic reaction to things such as pollen.
Irritant conjunctivitis – This is caused when something irritates the conjunctiva leading to inflammation, such as; shampoo, an eyelash, or other foreign body coming into contact with the surface of the eye.
Infective conjunctivitis – This is caused by a bacterial of viral infection.
Allergic and irritant conjunctivitis are not contagious but infective conjunctivitis is contagious and all types can be treated differently. If you suspect you have conjunctivitis is would be advised to see an eye doctor, especially if you have never had it before. This way they can try to establish what type of conjunctivitis you have, advise the best treatment, and advise if it is contagious or not.
Here are a few tips on how to prevent getting conjunctivitis;
Always wash your hands when you have been in public places, such as a toilet or when you have touched hand rails. Using alcohol gel while you’re out and about is always a good idea if there is nowhere for you to wash your hands.
Do not share items such as face clothes, hand towels, tissues, and eye make-up with anyone.
Do not share contact lenses of any kind with anyone.
If you wear contact lenses, take them out before getting in water such as a shower, swimming pool, or hot tub and if you swim with your contact lenses on always wear goggles. Water can get in between the contact lenses and the eye which can cause bacteria to grow that could lead to developing conjunctivitis.
If you sneeze or cough always cover your nose and mouth and do not rub or touch your eyes straight after, always wash your hand as soon as possible.
If you already have a contagious form conjunctivitis here are some ways you can help reduce the spread of it to others;
Try not to touch or rub your eyes as this can make the condition worse and spread it to your other eye or a surface where someone else could pick up the infection.
Make sure you wash your hands frequently, especially before and after cleaning the eye or applying eye drops/ointment, and whenever you do touch the eye area. As mentioned above carry alcohol gel with you if you cannot wash your hands straight away.
Do not share any items with anyone else, such as face clothes, towels, make-up, eye drops, glasses, contact lens storage cases, and pillows.
Try to wash sheets, pillowcases, face clothes, and towels on a hot wash with detergent to kill the bacteria on these items.
Do not use a swimming pool until the conjunctivitis has cleared up.
Along with the above advice there are several things you can do once you have got over conjunctivitis to prevent being re-infected;
If you wear contact lenses throw away any contact lenses, contact lens solution, and storage cases you used before and while you had conjunctivitis. Make sure if you wear monthly lenses you get a new set to use after the conjunctivitis has gone.
If you wear glasses make sure you thoroughly clean them and any cases you used during the time you had conjunctivitis and get a new glasses cloth to use once they have been cleaned.
Throw away any make-up, especially eye make-up, that you used while having conjunctivitis as the bacteria will still be on the make-up and you could contract it again.
Samer Hamada is a distinguished consultant ophthalmologist and cornea surgeon performing eye surgeries at his practice, Eye Clinic London. With nearly two decades' experience, Mr. Hamada is recognised as a leading expert in the field of cataract, refractive lens exchange (RLE) and corneal surgeries.