Articles & Papers


Conjunctivitis Is Common, Highly Contagious Eye Infection

January, 2010

Healthcare Times Feature

Wheaton Eye Clinic

When the redness in your eye turns itchy, painful, oozy or crusty, you may be the victim of an eye infection commonly known as pink eye. The medical term for pink eye is conjunctivitis. It occurs when the conjunctiva, the thin, transparent lining that covers the back of the eyelid and loops back to cover the white of the eye, becomes inflamed.

The conjunctiva helps protect the eye by keeping small foreign objects and infection-causing microorganisms out of the eye; it also helps maintain the eye’s protective tear film. Conjunctivitis is the result of eye infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, allergic reactions, chemicals or foreign bodies in the eye as well as overexposure to sunlight. Although conjunctivitis caused by a virus has no available treatment, bacterial conjunctivitis is successfully treated with antibiotic drops or ointments.

Doctors diagnose conjunctivitis by its symptoms and appearance. Because it is difficult to distinguish viral from bacterial conjunctivitis, the eye is closely examined with a slit lamp, an instrument that magnifies the surface of the eye. Wheaton Eye Clinic ophthalmologists are currently taking part in the EYEnovation clinical research trial evaluating an investigational medication for viral pink eye. Participants receive eye evaluations, close monitoring, and study medication at no cost as well as compensation for time and travel expenses.

Conjunctivitis is highly contagious so precautions should always be taken to avoid its spread. Never touch your eyes or facial area unless you have just washed your hands. If you wear contact lenses, hand washing is especially important as well as disinfecting/disposing lenses on schedule. In addition to frequent hand washing, conjunctivitis can be avoided by not sharing towels, washcloths, pillows, blankets or other household items that come in contact with the face.

It is important that people with conjunctivitis stay home from work or school for a few days, just as they would with the flu or a severe cold. Until the symptoms disappear, they should gently wash the eyelid with tap water and a clean washcloth to keep it clean and free of discharge. Sometimes cool compresses will help soothe the feeling of irritation from this all too common eye infection.