What is conjunctivitis and how to help deal with it

If you’re like many people, you might think that conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye,” is a highly infectious “children's disease" that has a reputation for spreading fast in schools. However, the truth is, this eye disease can affect anyone at any age, and there are many different types, with different causes, symptoms, and treatments.

What is conjunctivitis?

When someone has conjunctivitis, their translucent membrane (conjunctiva) that covers the back of the whites of their eyes and the eyelid becomes red and inflamed. Symptoms vary, depending on the cause of the disease, and can include redness, swelling of the eyelids, itching, and more,

The conjunctiva plays an important role in preventing bacteria and viruses from entering the eyes. When they become congested and red, it’s due to a defensive reaction from the conjunctiva trying to eliminate foreign matter.

Conjunctivitis can have serious consequences. When the epithelial cells (found on the surface of your body) of the conjunctiva get scratched, it’s easier for viruses and bacteria that are different from ones that cause conjunctivitis to enter. Worse, conjunctivitis caused by an adenovirus may actually make your eyesight get worse. That’s why it’s so important not to ignore conjunctivitis, and take care of it properly.

Three main types of conjunctivitis:

1. Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions) such as pollen and dust. Symptoms include itching, conjunctival hyperemia (excess blood flow), tears, sneezing, runny nose, and stuffy nose.
Seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, mainly caused by pollen, occurs in certain seasons, such as spring and autumn. Year-round allergic conjunctivitis, mainly due to house dust, occurs regardless of the season.

2. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be caused by a wide variety of bacteria, including severe bacteria such as Staphylococcus Aureus. Symptoms include white eye hyperemia, swelling, and yellow eyes.
There’s also a type of sexually transmitted infection, "chlamydia conjunctivitis," which is transmitted by the visible body fluids of people infected with Chlamydia Trakomatis bacteria.

3. Viral conjunctivitiscan take many forms, including:

> Epidemic keratitis,which is caused by adenoviruses infecting the eyes. Symptoms such as eye hyperemia, eyes, tears, eye pain, and lymphatic swelling appear.

> Pharyngeal conjunctivitis can also occur when adenoviruses infect the eyes. This disease is known as "pool fever," because it’s often transmitted to children through the pool. Eye symptoms can include eye hyperemia and weak eyes; other symptoms are sore throat and fever.

> Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis is mainly caused by various viral strains infecting the eye. Bleeding is often seen in the whites of the eyes.

> Herpes conjunctivitis happens when a simple herpes virus is transmitted to the eyes. It’s characterized by branchy lesions on the cornea, and small bubbles may appear in the skin around the eyes.

Tips on how to prevent and deal with allergic conjunctivitis

> Use eye drops. Allergic conjunctivitis can be handled with over-the-counter eye drops containing antiallergic and antihistamines.

> Avoid pollen. When there’s lots of pollen scattered about, avoid going outside as much as you can, or wear goggle-shaped glasses and pollen prevention masks when you go out.

> Remove mites. Vacuum your house slowly and carefully, using a vacuum cleaner with high suction power. Use an air purifier to remove the carcasses and dung of mites. In addition, if the room temperature is kept 20 degrees Celsius or 68 degrees Fahrenheit, or less, the humidity is kept at 50%, and ventilation is good, the growth of mites will be suppressed.

> Remove mold. Try to dehumidify in the summer, and keep the humidity below 70% to suppress the growth of mold. In winter, condensation of window glass and sashes causes mold, so prevent condensation by wiping frequently or using insulation material.

> Avoid washing your eyes with tap water. If you want to wash pollen or house dust in your eyes, tap water will wash away your tears and damage the cornea. It's a good idea to use eye drops with artificial tears, such as Rohto® Dry Aid® to lubricate dry eyes.

Tips on how to prevent and deal with bacterial conjunctivitis

> Wash your hands frequently. Bacterial conjunctivitis is transmitted through your fingers, so it’s important to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes with dirty hands. Be sure to wash your hands every time you put on or take off your contact lenses.

> Use eye drops. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be managed with eye drops that contain antibacterial agents. Use them as directed, and if there’s no improvement, see an ophthalmologist.

Tips on how to prevent and deal with viral conjunctivitis:

> Wash your hands well and don't rub your eyes. There are many viruses in tears and eyes. To avoid infecting other people, wash your hands with running water and soap, and keep them away from your eyes.

> Use goggles in the pool. Pharyngeal conjunctivitis (pool fever) is transmitted when viruses contained in infected people's eyes, nose, and stools enter the body through pool water. In the past, it was recommended to wash your eyes after swimming in the pool. However, if you wash your eyes with tap water, your tears will be washed away and the cornea can become damaged.

> See an ophthalmologist.They will usually prescribe eye drops to reduce inflammation and prevent secondary infection caused by bacteria.

> Recuperate at home. There’s a risk of spreading infection for 1 week to 10 days. Send children back to school after getting permission from my doctor. For adults, it’s best to take time off from going to the office.

> Prevent infection within families. Try to wash your hands well, don't rub your eyes, and don't share towels or eye drops with other family members. Use paper towels instead of sharing cloth towels. If possible, wipe whatever an infected person has touched with alcohol. Infection can be spread through hot water, so if you’re infected and take a bath, thoroughly clean the bathtub and faucet afterwards.