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Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis: Clearing Up the Confusion

Most people have experienced conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye or red eye) in some way shape or form. But when we compare notes with our friends, we often find things don’t line up. Some people are given antibiotics. Others were told to just let it clear up on its own. Sometimes it happens alongside a sinus infection. Other times it seems to be related to the season. Why does there seem to be so much variation from case to case? What does conjunctivitis actually mean?

Conjunctivitis // noun // \kən-ˌjəŋ(k)-ti-ˈvī-təs\
“Inflammations of the conjunctiva; the mucous membrane covering the eye”
-Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Since the term conjunctivitis refers simply to the inflammation of the conjunctiva, this means the term can be applied to a variety of conditions, each with their own symptoms, pathologies, and treatments. There are 3 main types of conjunctivitis.

Sometimes the immune system misinterprets outside stimuli; regarding them as threats to the body when they are not. Your system goes on the defensive, doing its best to block out or remove the stimuli with sneezing, excessive mucous, or vomiting. This is called an allergic reaction.

Allergic Conjunctivitis is simply an allergic reaction occurring in the eyes. Pollen, pet dander and dust are allergens that commonly trigger allergic conjunctivitis.


Allergic conjunctivitis causes eyes to become red and itchy. In some cases, the eyes feel dry, while in others they can become quite watery. These symptoms often appear alongside other, non-eye-related allergy symptoms; including sneezing, an itchy throat, or chest congestion.

Viruses are responsible for a wide variety of illnesses, ranging from mundane to serious. Influenza, mononucleosis (commonly known just as “mono”), and shingles are all the result of viral infections.

As the name would suggest, viral conjunctivitis is simply an inflammation caused by a viral infection. These infections can be caused by any number of viruses, including the viruses responsible for the common cold and cold sores.

This form of conjunctivitis usually starts in one eye, but often spreads to the other. It is highly contagious so it’s best to stay home until the infection subsides, and wash anything that comes into contact with the eyes.


Patients with viral conjunctivitis find their eyes to be red and swollen, experiencing an itching or stinging sensation. This infection can produce excessive watery or stringy discharge. It can also impact the patient’s eyesight; causing sensitivity to light.

Your body has a very delicate balance of good bacteria. The introduction of bad bacteria can throw off this balance, potentially to devastating effect. Bacterial infections can have serious ramifications or complications if left untreated.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is simply a bacterial infection in the eye. This may come from the eye making contact with an infected hand, or even due to the spread of an ear or sinus infection. This form of conjunctivitis is incredibly contagious, so it’s crucial you stay out of public or highly populated areas as much as possible.

You must wash any sheets, pillow cases, or clothing that have come into contact with the infected eye, and dispose of any makeup or contact lenses used on it as these may re-introduce the infection.


Much like viral conjunctivitis, patients with bacterial conjunctivitis experience swelling, redness, and irritation of the eye. But perhaps the most unsettling symptom is the thick, sticky discharge from the eye which can be yellow, white, or greenish in colour.

This discharge can be so thick that it sometimes seals the infected eye shut while the patient is sleeping. If this happens, dampen a towel or cloth with warm (not hot) water and dab at the eye until the discharge begins to soften and wipe away. Be sure to wash this towel or cloth immediately.

Conjunctivitis Treatment

Though many of the symptoms of conjunctivitis overlap, each one requires a different course of treatment. Therefore, it is crucial you see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment when you contract conjunctivitis.

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