Conjunctivitis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

The conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the tissue that covers the inner surface of the eyelids and the front of the eyeball. The conjunctiva has the function of defending the eye from microorganisms and protecting it from foreign substances: in normal conditions, the secretion emitted by the lacrimal glands lubricates it.

Among the diseases that affect the eye, conjunctivitis is among the most common. It can manifest in acute or chronic form, it can affect only one eye or both.

The cause of this eye disease can be bacterial, viral or caused by other microorganisms. In fact, the allergic response to some elements such as pollen, dust, animal hair but also drugs, cosmetics or may be caused by excessive exposure to sunlight may be.

The various types of conjunctivitis

The bacterial conjunctivitis is the most common form: it seems to be about more than half of all types of acute conjunctivitis. In any case, different types of conjunctivitis are counted: these are the most common.

Bacterial conjunctivitis

The cause is streptococcus, specifically Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrhalis. Unlike allergic conjunctivitis, the bacterial form does not manifest itself with intense itching and lacrimation is not so abundant.

Viral conjunctivitis

The viral conjunctivitis is caused primarily by viruses such as adenovirus or by herpesvirus. When viral all problems can be associated with fever, cough, sore throat and swollen lymph glands. The secretion is fluid, almost never purulent unless a bacterial-like infection overlaps.

Allergic conjunctivitis

The allergic conjunctivitis affects approximately ten percent of the world population. It can be of two types:  seasonal or chronic.

If it is seasonal, it is important to go to the ophthalmologist in time so that he can prescribe a suitable prophylaxis able to counteract the acute symptoms.

The main types of allergic conjunctivitis are …

  • Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (characteristic disorders occur at certain times of the year);
  • Perennial allergic conjunctivitis (characteristic disorders occur throughout the year);
  • Contact dermatocongientitis.

In these cases, especially in the case of chronic conjunctivitis, it is advisable to also contact an allergist who could prescribe a suitable vaccine.

“Dry eye” conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis due to “dry eye” also exists: it occurs as a result of hormonal changes, in particular medications or in the third age. The cause is a poor production of tears, the natural cleanser of the eyes: this makes the eye drier and therefore more vulnerable to inflammation and possible corneal ulceration.

Actinic conjunctivitis

Sunlight or other forms of radiation cause this type of conjunctivitis. To avoid this it is therefore advisable to use sunglasses with ultraviolet filters. Due to these characteristics, the actinic is more common to contract it to the sea, after exposure to tanning lamps and on the snow. 

Contact conjunctivitis

The contact Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva and skin (skin) of the eyelids caused by an allergic reaction to products or substances such as eye drops, cosmetics and soaps.

Papillary conjunctivitis

The papillary conjunctivitis indicates the allergic reaction of the palpebral conjunctiva to the contact lens. The symptoms are resolved simply by avoiding their use for some time.

The papillary can also occur in carriers of ocular prostheses and persons with sutures permanent for keratoplasty or cataract operations.

The symptoms of this type are: mucous secretion and the need to quickly remove the lens. In the neglected forms, the itching is very strong and is associated with greater mucous secretion and a foreign body sensation. The suspension of the lenses reverses the symptoms, but the papillary hypertrophy can remain even for years.

Can contact lenses be used if you have conjunctivitis?

In case of conjunctivitis, it is necessary to suspend the use of contact lenses until complete recovery. If a viral form is diagnosed it is important to dispose of the old lenses, including the container, otherwise the risk of being infected again.

Conjunctivitis: The causes

The causes of conjunctivitis can be, as we have seen, of a different nature. Inflammation of the conjunctiva may depend on …

  • From the action of viruses, fungi and bacteria. Infectious conjunctivitis can be caused by bacteria and viruses that can also cause sore throat and high fever.
  • From allergies (including special cosmetics)
  • Contact with irritants (smoke, cosmetics, some eye drops, X-rays, heat, pollutants in the air)

Symptoms of conjunctivitis

The symptoms caused by the problem are quite similar in all its types and can be more or less serious.

  • The first sign of the disease is the red eye (hyperemia), the itching and more intense tearing.
  • In cases of more serious inflammation, the previous symptoms can be associated with swelling of the eyelids, sensitivity to light, mucus and pus (especially in the morning the eye has a sticky secretion on the eyelashes), pain in the eyes and the feeling of having a body stranger inside.

The complications of conjunctivitis

If well cared for, it is a disease that is resolved quickly. In some rare cases the following complications may develop:

  • Otitis media (an acute or chronic inflammation of the cavity behind the eardrum, also called the “middle ear”) with conjunctival hemorrhage (loss of blood from the eye).
  • Formation of small vesicles along the edge of the eyelids (typical lesions induced by herpetic viruses).
  • Blurred vision.
  • Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea).
  • Meningitis.
  • Septicemia due to the persistent presence in the blood of bacteria such as streptococci, staphylococci, pneumococci and meningococci.

In infants, the infectious form can cause a serious eye infection, which, if not treated correctly, could cause permanent damage to eyesight.


As is obvious, only the doctor’s diagnosis can ascertain the pathology and its nature. It is important to immediately understand the cause of the disease, so as to immediately identify the correct therapy.

To do this, the doctor must therefore check whether it is a viral and bacterial form, therefore infectious, or of other forms that may be of an allergic or contact nature.

If infective conjunctivitis is suspected, the doctor may request the swab: a simple test that consists in taking, with a stick similar to a cotton swab, a quantity of secretion, which will then be analyzed in the laboratory. In this way, the germs responsible for the infection and the most suitable antibiotics to defeat them are identified.

It is also important that the ophthalmologist distinguish conjunctivitis from other pathologies with similar symptoms such as keratitis, keratoconjunctivitis and uveitis.

How conjunctivitis is treated

The treatment of conjunctivitis varies according to the causes that cause the infection.

Infectious conjunctivitis (bacterial and viral)

When conjunctivitis is of the bacterial type, the eye specialist prescribes antibiotics in the form of eye drops or eye cream.

The cause of viral conjunctivitis is almost always due to adenovirus and herpesvirus: in this case the doctor will prescribe antiviral drugs.

Allergic conjunctivitis

If the conjunctivitis is allergic in nature the doctor will prescribe the following drugs …

  • Antihistamines;
  • Mast cell stabilizers;
  • Corticosteroids;
  • Decongestants;
  • Anti-inflammatory;

In these cases, it is always advisable to avoid contact lenses, rub your eyes, and expose yourself to the allergen that causes the allergy.

Papillary conjunctivitis and contact conjunctivitis

If the cause of papillary conjunctivitis is the allergic reaction to contact lenses, it is resolved by avoiding its use.

If conjunctivitis is a reaction caused by contact with irritants contained in cosmetics (from make-up to detergents, from perfumes to soaps for personal hygiene) or from physical agents such as fumes or excessive exposure to sunlight, the only possible cure it is to identify with certainty the product that causes conjunctival inflammation in order to avoid its use or exposure.

Hygiene tips

When you are suffering from conjunctivitis, regardless of the cause, it is advisable to follow simple instructions …

  • Gently cleanse your eyes with a cotton pad;
  • Do not wear contact lenses until the disorders have completely disappeared. Discard the last used lenses: if inserted in the eye after healing they could cause the infection again;
  • Apply lubricating eye drops (artificial tears) avoiding contact between bottle and eyelid;
  • Always wash your hands after touching your eyes.

Eye care at the table

We all know that beta-carotene is a perfect ally for eye health. But what are the foods that are particularly rich in it? Beta-carotene is contained in large quantities in medlars, apricots, watermelon, melon, berries, carrots, cabbage and lettuce.

Foods rich in bioflavonoids such as grapes, lemons, prunes, grapefruit and apricots are also very important.

Foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits and kiwis, of vitamin E, present in dried fruit, cereals, vegetables, and vitamin A, present in mango, pumpkin, are always very useful for avoiding inflammation, including eye inflammation broccoli, chillies and spinach.

If the conjunctivitis is of allergic origin, better to suspend from the diet the milk and its derivatives or replace them with soymilk and tofu of organic production.

Phytotherapy for conjunctivitis

If we want to clear the eyes using the plants that nature offers, we will have to use chamomile, euphrasia and elderberry.

It is possible to make an infusion with each of these plants by putting 2 tablespoons of the selected herb in half a liter of boiling water. After an infusion of about 15 minutes, it will be possible to dip a gauze in the infusion, squeeze it and apply it to the eyes.

How to prevent conjunctivitis?

Here is how you can try to prevent the various types of conjunctivitis.

Infectious conjunctivitis

To prevent infectious conjunctivitis it is useful to follow simple precautions:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching or rubbing the healthy eye after touching the infected eye.
  • Change the pillowcase and towels frequently.
  • Avoid close contact with other people.
  • Throw away make-up cosmetics used in the early stages of the infection to prevent it from manifesting again.

Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis

In cases of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, it is good to follow some practical precautions:

  • Keep windows closed to prevent pollen from entering.
  • Travel by car with the windows closed or otherwise avoiding excessive airflow.
  • Avoid the fields where the grass is cut.
  • Avoid outdoor sports.

If you are allergic to dust mites, you can take precautions such as …

  • Ventilate the premises often to avoid dust accumulation.     
  • Keep a temperature in the home that does not exceed 20° C.
  • Use as little as possible carpets, carpets, upholstered sofas, dried flowers, all objects that “collect” dust.
  • Avoid the wallpaper, for the same reason.
  • Wash bed linen often at a temperature not lower than 50° C.

Conjunctivitis from chemical or physical agents

In the case of conjunctivitis caused by irritating chemical or physical agents it is good …

  • Wear sunglasses or protective goggles.
  • Avoid contact with irritants
  • Avoid staying in smoky or dusty environments.

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