What is ‘Conjunctivitis’?

‘Conjunctivitis’ is an inflammation or infection of the ‘conjunctiva’ (the membrane that covers the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelid). When the membrane is irritated, it swells and the blood vessels dilate. The eye then becomes red. That is why ‘conjunctivitis’ is sometimes called ‘red eye’ or ‘pink eye’. It can occur in one or both eyes.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Conjunctivitis may cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Redness in the eyes
  • Swelling and redness around the eyes
  • Itching or burning
  • Causing tears or discharge
  • Sticking together of eyelashes when one wakes up

How is it diagnosed?

Conjunctivitis is not a critically serious disease. But you should see an eye doctor at its first signs. Prompt treatment helps prevent damage to other parts of the eye. To arrive at a diagnosis, your eye doctor will ask about the symptoms, about any medications you take, and any illnesses or medical conditions you may have. The doctor will also check your eyes with a hand- held light and a special microscope called a slit lamp.

Chronic Conjunctivitis:

Chronic conjunctivitis is an eye inflammation. Allergies or irritants in the environment often cause it. This problem can last for weeks or months. Sometimes, chronic conjunctivitis is accompanied by an infection.


Treatment involves relieving the symptoms and avoiding the cause of the inflammation.


Grass, pollen, dust mould, and animals are common causes of allergies. They make the eyes red, watery, and itchy. When under an allergy-attack, both eyes are usually inflamed.

Treating the inflammation:

The best way to control an allergy is to avoid its cause. Cold compresses and eye-drops can help reduce the swelling, relieve redness and itching. If your allergy is severe, your doctor may prescribe oral medication. Symptoms may take a number of weeks to clear up.


Air pollution, smoke, fumes, even contact lenses can irritate the eyes. The eyes become red, swollen, and watery. One or both eyes may become inflamed.

Acute conjunctivitis:

Acute conjunctivitis is most often an eye infection. Viruses or bacteria may cause it. The treatment involves keeping your eyes and hands clean. You may also use eye-drops or compresses. Most of the time, acute conjunctivitis clears up within a short time.

Viral infections:

A cold, flu or other virus can spread to the eyes. This causes a watery discharge. The eyes may burn or itch and become red. The eyelids may also be swollen. This condition is often called ‘pink eye’.

Treating the viral infection:

Most viral infections subside on their own. Artificial tears and cold compresses can relieve burning and swelling. Your doctor may prescribe medicated eye-drops. A viral infection can spread quickly. To keep it from spreading, wash your hands often. Do not touch your eyes or share bedding or towels.

Bacterial infections:

Bacterial infections most often occur in one eye. There may be a watery or a thick discharge from the eye. If these infections are not treated promptly, they can cause serious damage to the eye.

Treating the bacterial infection:

Your doctor may prescribe eye-drops or ointment to kill the bacteria. Warm compresses can help keep the eyelids clean, while cold compresses can help relieve swelling. Wash your hands often to keep the bacteria from spreading. Use a separate tissue to wipe each eye. Don’t touch your eyes or share bedding or towels.

Tips for prevention:

» Wash your hands often using soap and warm water.
» Do not share your handkerchief, tissues or napkins with others.
» Use Anti-biotic eye drops as prescribed by the eye doctor.
» Never share eye medications and never use someone else’s medication.
» Do not wear contact lenses or eye make-up while having an infection.
» Ask your doctor about cleaning or replacing your contact lenses.
» Buy new eye make-up.
» Use paper tissues to remove make-up.
» Use a tissue only once.