Conjunctivitis, is it contagious?

Conjunctivitis, or “pink eye,” is when the white portion of the eye becomes red.  It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, allergies and systemic illnesses.   Patients with this condition can experience irritation, itchy eyes, discharge, or pain.

Many patients this time of year have viral conjunctivitis.  There are many different types of viruses and many serotypes of each virus.  Most cases, like the common cold, resolve on their own.  Cool Compresses help improve symptoms.  Some doctors may prescribe a steroid eye drop to improve symptoms.  Steroid eye drops are contraindicated in treatment of herpetic conjunctivitis, unless prescribed with an anti-viral eye drop.  Viral conjunctivitis is spread by contact.  Appropriate hand washing can prevent transmission or spread of the virus.  If a child has pink eye, oftentimes the schools will send them home to prevent the virus from spreading.  Some serotypes of Adenovirus, the virus that causes the common cold, could cause corneal scarring and membrane formation. This can usually be prevented or treated by an Ophthalmologist.

Bacterial conjunctivitis causes a thick yellow/green, purulent conjunctivitis.  Bacterial infections could cause long-term scarring unless treated with an antibiotic eyedrop.  Bacterial infections are also contagious.

Allergies can produce a conjunctivitis, which is not contagious.  There are patients that present in the Winter but many more present in the Spring.  Allergic conjunctivitis can cause intense itching and in rare circumstances, scarring.  6-8 year-old boys, in particular, can develop an entity know as vernal conjunctivitis, which can cause scarring and extreme discomfort.  Most cases of allergy are treated with allergy drops.  The patients with more severe presentations, may need to be treated with steroid eye drops.

Systemic disease, most frequently auto-immune disorders, can present with eye redness and pain.  Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Ulcerative Colitis, Sarcoiditis and many other auto-immune diseases can present with an iritis, which causes eye redness.  Lyme disease, TB and Syphillis can also present with eye redness.

Trauma can cause eye irritation and pain as well.  A foreign body present in the eye can produce pain and a foreign body sensation.

If you have persistent eye pain and redness, please see one of our Sight MD doctors for an exam.

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