Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers most of the eye surface and makes it moist.

It is an inflammation that is far from trivial: If not treated properly, conjunctivitis can put eye health at serious risk. 

Why does the conjunctiva become inflamed? How does conjunctivitis manifest itself, and how is it treated? This article will explore these topics. 

What are the causes of conjunctivitis?

There is no one single type of conjunctivitis. It is often thought that conjunctivitis is only infectious, but this is not always the case: Conjunctivitis can be caused by microorganisms such as bacteria, mycetes, or viruses, or by foreign bodies, such as sand or dust, or by allergies, toxic substances, drugs. 

For example, touching the eyes with dirty hands can help carry microorganisms into the conjunctiva and induce inflammation in one or both eyes. 

The most common causes of conjunctivitis include allergy, bacteria, or viruses. The first symptom that should not be underestimated is redness of the conjunctiva, which is common to all types of conjunctivitis. 

To avoid consequences to the eyes – which in severe cases can even go so far as to impair vision – it is a good idea to see a specialist for an eye examination when the first symptoms appear. 

What are the symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis?

The first symptom of bacterial conjunctivitis is purulent discharge (pus), whose severity varies depending on the bacteria responsible. If not treated properly and quickly, the bacterial infection could spread from the conjunctiva to neighboring ocular tissues – i.e., cornea, lacrimal gland, eyelids – with the risk of permanent damage. 

What are the symptoms of viral conjunctivitis?

Viral conjunctivitis manifests itself with symptoms such as:

  • Discomfort first in one eye and then in the other;
  • Swelling of the eyelid and conjunctiva;
  • Profuse tearing of the eyes;
  • Photophobia – discomfort with light;
  • Disturbance of vision.

Again, treatment must be prompt and appropriate to prevent conjunctivitis from becoming viral keratitis. This cornea infection can lead to vision limitation. Viral conjunctivitis, which is associated with influenza viruses, is the most contagious form and can be transmitted from one person to another through shared towels or pillows, by direct contact, or through hands that are not thoroughly washed.

What are the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis?

Allergic conjunctivitis occurs with:

  • Itching;
  • Feeling the presence of a foreign body;
  • Tearing;
  • Swelling of the eyelid;
  • Photophobia.

Although clinically less severe than bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, allergic conjunctivitis also needs proper treatment quickly.  

How is conjunctivitis treated?

During the eye examination, the specialist will determine the type of conjunctivitis and will then prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Depending on the case, this may include antiviral, antibiotic, antifungal eye drops, or eye drops with antihistamine or cortisone

The ophthalmologist will also recommend an allergy examination in case of allergic conjunctivitis.

If therapy is not effective and does not offer relief to the patient after a few days of treatment, the ophthalmologist will perform a conjunctival swab. Through a specific test (antibiogram), this exam allows the specialist to determine a possible resistance to some antibiotics and then identify the most suitable one.