What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an irritation or inflammation of the conjunctiva (the thin clear moist membrane that coats the inner eyelids and outer surface of the eye). Conjunctivitis is extremely contagious; it can affect one eye but easily spreads to two. It is also easily transferred through contact with eye secretions from someone who is infected; this may be directly through touch by contaminated fingers or objects, or by swimming in contaminated water or sharing contaminated towels.

Conjunctivitis is very common in children under 5.
It is caused by:

  • A bacterial or viral infection- known as infective conjunctivitis
  • An allergic reaction to a substance such as pollen- known as allergic conjunctivitis
  • The eye coming into contact with things that can irritate the conjunctiva, such as shampoo or a loose eyelash rubbing against the eye- known as irritant conjunctivitis


Symptoms of conjunctivitis (pink eye) can include:

  • Pink or red color in the white of the eye
  • Swelling of the conjunctiva and/or eyelids
  • Increased tear production
  • Itching, irritation or burning
  • Discharge
  • Crusting of eyelids or lashes

Treating Conjunctivitis

Treatment of conjunctivitis will vary according to the cause; however symptoms usually clear up within a couple of weeks without any additional interventions. Irritant conjunctivitis will clear up as soon as the cause is removed. Allergic conjunctivitis subsides after taking the usual anti-allergy medications (antihistamines) taken.

To help relieve some of the inflammation and dryness caused by conjunctivitis, a cold compresses and artificial tears may be used; these can be bought over the counter without a prescription.

If contact lenses are usually worn they should be removed until your G.P states it is alright to use them again.

In severe cases of conjunctivitis antibiotic eye drops or cream may be given. Contact your G.P immediately if you have:

  • Continued eye pain
  • Increased sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Intense redness in one eye or both eyes
  • Disturbed vision
  • A new-born baby (below 28 days old) with conjunctivitis