Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is the most common eye problem that affects people of all age groups. It is also one of the most common eye infections in children.
The condition becomes more common in the summer season as a result of rise in temperature which makes it ideal for the virus to spread.
In an exclusive interview with Salome Phelamei of Zee Media Corp, Dr Anand Shroff, MS (Ophth), F.I.C.S. Fellow in International College of Surgeons Laser Vision Corrections, Eye Specialist in ReLEx SMILE, LASIK, Bladeless EpiLASIK, C3R, Glaucoma, discussed in detail about the common eye problem.
Dr Shroff, who currently works at Shroff Eye Hospital in Mumbai, is the first in India and one of only few in the world to use the ‘Concerto 500 Hz laser’, one of the safest and fastest lasers in the world.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye, which is the clear, transparent, thin layer covering the white part of your eye and the inside of your eyelids. If something irritates this layer, your eyes may turn red and swollen.
What causes conjunctivitis? Why is it most common in spring or early summer?
The most common cause of irritation of this layer is due to allergens in the environment which include air pollution, smoke, pollen from trees and grass. Other common causes are perfumes, cosmetics and eye make-up. These causes result in the form of conjunctivitis called ‘Allergic Conjunctivitis’.
In our city, construction dust is also a major cause of allergic conjunctivitis. In some cases, use of mosquito-repellent liquids used in a closed room throughout the night can cause allergies and puffy eyelids.
Other causes of conjunctivitis are viral and bacterial infections. Another form of conjunctivitis is Giant papillary conjunctivitis. It occurs most commonly in contact lens users. The exact cause of the inflammation is possibly an allergic reaction to unclean contact lens or to poor lens hygiene. About 1 in 100 contact lens wearers develop this type of conjunctivitis.
The episodes of conjunctivitis rise during the summer; the reason behind this being the increase in temperatures favouring bacterial growth, increase in pollens and moulds.
Symptoms of pink eye-
- Eyes usually itch, burn, turn watery
- Whites of the eyes look red or pink
- There may be a constant feeling of a foreign body in the eye and it may be painful.
- Eyelids may swell.
- Eyes can water as in allergic conjunctivitis or become ‘gluey’ as in infective conjunctivitis.
- Vision is not usually affected.
- In severe cases the conjunctiva under the upper eyelids may swell and look lumpy.
How is conjunctivitis treated? What are the complications of it?
Allergic conjunctivitis is irritating and uncomfortable, but it will not hurt your eyesight unless very severe.
Infectious conjunctivitis however needs urgent attention as the symptoms can worsen and become difficult to treat. This form can also spread to other family members or co-workers.
Steps that may help:
- Washing the eyes with a cloth soaked in cold water soothes the eyes.
- Depending on the type of conjunctivitis, eye drops that reduce inflammation and treat infection [antibiotic] are prescribed by an eye doctor.
- Steroid eye drops are rarely needed or used. Steroids are good at reducing inflammation. However, they should only be used under the supervision of an eye specialist as infection and other causes of conjunctivitis need to be definitely ruled out. Steroids can make some other eye conditions worse.
- Antihistamine tablets. You can take these in addition to the eye drops to ease the general symptoms of allergies.
- In general, do not wear contact lenses until symptoms have gone, and for 24 hours after the last dose of any eye drop or ointment.
- Lubricating eye drops (called artificial tears) may also make your eyes feel better. You can buy these drops without a prescription.
Most conjunctivitis are self limiting and not dangerous. However, some forms of bacterial conjunctivitis can be severe and if left untreated can result in sight threatening internal infections. Some, if treated injudiciously, may result in a resistant form of chronic conjunctivitis which becomes rather difficult to treat as it does not easily respond to antibiotics in form of eye drops and may need oral drugs as well.
Repeated conjunctivitis needs special attention. The cause needs to be ascertained. This is most important if the treatment relies on steroid eye drops. Long term use of steroid eye drops by itself has its own set of complications which includes onset of Glaucoma (raised eye pressure).
Are there any home remedies to treat conjunctivitis?
Once you have a pink eye, the first thing you must do is wash your hands, face and eyes with clean water. Wait for a few hours to see if the pink eye has settled. Chances are that it would have settled down on its own if it was just a passing irritant.
However, if still there, focus on other symptoms. If the pink eye is associated with a cold or runny nose, then it is possible that it is part of the entire allergic condition. In such cases, an anti allergy tablet at home would help.
Also, cold compresses on the eyes relive the itchiness. Avoid anything that may have aggravated the irritation such as a dusty room, painting or polishing jobs etc.
Any lubricating eye drop may also ease the symptoms. If the pinkness deepens or the symptoms worsen, you must see an eye specialist.
How can a person avoid getting pink eye?
It is a myth if you think that by staring into a red eye you will get one yourself!
It is also a myth that a person wearing dark glasses when he/she has a red eye is enough protection from spreading the condition!
When one person rubs the eyes, the germs get on the hands. From there, they spread to someone else’s hands while sharing things such as doorknobs, towels etc. Hence the most important precaution whenever you are outdoors is never to rub your eyes since your hands have been all over the place. Wash your hands frequently, even a hand sanitizer will do.
Try to identify and avoid the allergens that cause your symptoms. For example, if you are allergic to pollen or mould, stay indoors when pollen and mould levels are high. Close windows, wear ‘wrap around’ sunglasses when out and use an air conditioner during the summer months.
Since conjunctivitis can also spread from one eye to the other, especially when you rub your eyes, here are a few tips to prevent spreading it-
- Good hygiene of hands and face is important.
- There should be no sharing of soaps, face towels, especially if someone has conjunctivitis. People who suffer from conjunctivitis should have a special towel that only they should use.
- Pus and crust should be removed by bathing the eye with lukewarm water to lessen the symptoms.
- Use disposable tissues when you dry the eyes and throw them away after use to limit the contamination.
- Dispose off any antibiotic eye drops after the treatment is over.
- The person suffering from infective conjunctivitis must refrain from rubbing the eyes. If the urge to itch is strong, first the hands must be washed, then the eyes cleaned and the hands washed again with soap.