Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that lines your eyelid and part of your eyeball.

What is it?

The cause of conjunctivitis is commonly a bacterial or viral infection, an allergic reaction or — in newborns — an incompletely opened tear duct.

Conjunctivitis may make you feel as if you've got something in one or both of your eyes that you just can't remove. When you wake up in the morning, your eyes may seem to be pasted shut from the discharge coming from your eyes. The whites of your eyes may begin to have a pink discoloration, and you may not see as clearly as you did before.

Inflammation causes small blood vessels in the conjunctiva to become more prominent, resulting in a pink or red cast to the whites of your eyes. Pink eye and red eye are terms commonly used to refer to all types of conjunctivitis.

Though the inflammation of conjunctivitis makes it an irritating condition, it rarely affects your sight. If you suspect conjunctivitis, you can take steps to ease your discomfort. But because conjunctivitis can be contagious, it should be diagnosed and treated early. This is especially important for preschool-age children, who commonly develop both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis.

What causes it?

  • Viruses.
  • Bacteria.
  • Allergies.
  • A chemical splash in the eye.
  • A foreign object in the eye.

Most cases of conjunctivitis are caused by viruses. In newborns, conjunctivitis may result from an incompletely opened tear duct.

Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis may affect one or both eyes. Viral conjunctivitis usually produces a watery or mucous discharge. Bacterial conjunctivitis often produces a thicker, yellow-green discharge and may be associated with a respiratory infection or with a sore throat. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are associated with colds. Both viral and bacterial types are very contagious. Adults and children alike can develop both of these types of conjunctivitis. However, bacterial conjunctivitis is more common in children than it is in adults.

What are the symptoms?

  • Redness in one or both eyes.
  • Itchiness in one or both eyes.
  • Blurred vision and sensitivity to light.
  • A gritty feeling in one or both eyes.
  • A discharge in one or both eyes that forms a crust during the night.
  • Tearing.

Are there any natural therapies?

Adults may also find relief through taking golden seal and eyebright in tablet or capsule form, and horseradish, fenugreek and garlic may relieve the congestion associated with allergic conjunctivitis.

What else can I do?

  • Don't touch your eyes with your hands.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
  • Change your towel and washcloth daily, and don't share them with others.
  • Change your pillowcase often.
  • Discard eye cosmetics, particularly mascara.
  • Don't use anyone else's eye cosmetics or personal eye-care items.
  • Follow your eye doctor's instructions on proper contact lens care.

Did you know?

You can soothe the discomfort of conjunctivitis by applying warm compresses to your affected eye or eyes. To make a compress, soak a clean, lint-free cloth in warm water and wring it out before applying it gently to your closed eyelids.