What you need to know about conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is a very common condition across the UK. It is an inflammation of the liquid layer that covers the eye. If you take medicine that lowers your immune system, suffer diabetes, are young or elderly, or recently suffered a cold, you are at a higher risk of getting infective conjunctivitis.

There are three main types of conjunctivitis:

  • Infective conjunctivitis, which is caused by a bacterial or viral infection
  • Allergic conjunctivitis, which is caused by an allergic reaction
  • Irritant conjunctivitis, which can be caused by irritants getting into the eye (like shampoo, for example)

Most cases will clear up in a week or two and treatment is usually unnecessary. If it does require treatment, it is often in the form of eye drops to clear infection, or - if it is caused by allergies - antihistamines can help.

If you wear contact lenses it is advised that you switch to glasses until the conjunctivitis clears. Infective conjunctivitis is quite easily spread, so don’t share pillows or towels while you're suffering from it.

You should seek advice from a doctor if you experience watering eyes, eye redness, a sticky coating on the eye lashes or a burning sensation in the eyes. These could be signs of infective conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis is associated with the same symptoms as well as itchy eyes.

Some people get allergic conjunctivitis as a result of wearing contact lenses, and if you think this is the case you should get it checked out as soon as possible. Complications with conjunctivitis are rare but when it is caused by an allergy related to contact lenses you are at higher risk of complications.

There are a couple of complications that can arise from conjunctivitis, so it's important to consult a medical professional if the symptoms don't clear up within a week or so. Infective conjunctivitis can lead to meningitis, blood poisoning, ear infections or cellulitis. Scarring of the eye can happen with bad cases of allergic conjunctivitis. Your GP can offer further advice.

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