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Alternative Names Return to topInflammation - conjunctiva; Pink eye
Definition Return to top
Conjunctivitis is swelling (inflammation) or infection of the membrane lining the eyelids (conjunctiva).
Causes Return to top
The conjunctiva is exposed to bacteria and other irritants. Tears help protect the conjunctiva by washing away bacteria. Tears also contain enzymes and antibodies that kill bacteria.
There are many causes of conjunctivitis. Viruses are the most common cause. Other causes include:
"Pink eye" refers to a viral infection of the conjunctiva. These infections are especially contagious among children.
Newborns can be infected by bacteria in the birth canal. This condition is called ophthalmia neonatorum, and it must be treated immediately to preserve eyesight.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
Treatment Return to top
Treatment of conjunctivitis depends on the cause.
Allergic conjunctivitis may respond to allergy treatment. It may disappear on its own when the allergen that caused it is removed. Cool compresses may help soothe allergic conjunctivitis.
Antibiotic medication, usually eye drops, is effective for bacterial conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis will disappear on its own. Many doctors give a mild antibiotic eyedrop for pink eye to prevent bacterial conjunctivitis.
You can soothe the discomfort of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis by applying warm compresses (clean cloths soaked in warm water) to your closed eyes.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
The outcome is usually good with treatment.
Possible Complications Return to top
Reinfection within a household or school may occur if you don't follow preventive measures.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if your symptoms last longer than 3 or 4 days.
Prevention Return to top
Good hygiene can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis:
References Return to top
Wirbelauer C. Management of the red eye for the primary care. American Journal of Medicine. 2006;119:302-306.
Mueller JB, McStay CM. Ocular infection and inflammation. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2008.26:57-72.
Rubenstein JB, Jick SL. Disorders of the conjunctiva and limbus. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, Augsburger JJ, et al, eds. Ophthalmology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2004: chap 55.Update Date: 11/10/2008 Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.