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Take Aim at the Dreaded Pink Eye: Treating Conjunctivitis Swiftly, Seriously, and Safely

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Something supernatural? Or just itchy eyes?

Picture me on a Friday night, settling in to watch a film selected by one of the younger members of the family. It’s one of those romance movies that seem serious to teenagers and cheesy to adults, filmed with a colour palette so dark it’s almost black and white and filled with sweeping shots of misty forests, low-hanging clouds, and dilapidated houses at the edge of suburbia.

In the film, a new girl has just arrived in town (all these movies start the same way: someone new showing up). She just can’t seem to fit in at her unfamiliar school in an unfamiliar town filled with unfamiliar people.

Luckily, something catches her eye. Or someone. A special someone.

But there’s a problem.

This special someone has

  • Eyes that are unusually red
  •  Sensitivity to light 
  • Occasionally blurred vision during the day
  • Photophobia (trouble looking into light)
  • Tears constantly swelling up and threatening burst out

I nod sagely. I know exactly what is going on.

I turn towards the younger member of my family I am watching the film with. ‘It’s a bad case of conjunctivitis,’ I say knowingly.

She shakes her head, rolls her eyes, and lets out a disappointed (or even disgusted) sigh.

‘No,’ she says. ‘They’re vampires. Vampires.

And she is, as it turns out, quite right.

What is conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is a common and generally treatable eye condition. You probably don’t need a play-by-play description of conjunctivitis; it’s common enough that you’ve almost certainly had it yourself, and you’ll know someone who has had it. To put it in more technical terms, conjunctivitis is ‘an inflammation (swelling and redness) of the conjunctiva, which is the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids.’[1]

Conjunctivitis is called ‘sticky eye’ in some parts of Australia, and it is also known as ‘pink eye’, especially in the United States. These two labels aren’t exactly the most creative definition for condition, but they are certainly the most descriptive. Two of the key symptoms of conjunctivitis, after all, are

  1. swollen and red eyes, and
  2.  a sticky pus-like discharge that dries into a crust.

You might also experience:

  •  Discomfort when looking into light
  •  The feeling that something is stuck in the eye, causing discomfort
  • Itchiness and the urge to rub your eyes[2]

Even though I say that you might experience these things, it is actually young children that are most susceptible to conjunctivitis.

This is because many forms of conjunctivitis are highly contagious, and children often find themselves in situations where the transmission can occur easily. A children’s playground, the toys at preschool, or the crowded corridor at kindergarten can be – unfortunately – a superhighway for conjunctivitis.

Children are also susceptible to conjunctivitis because they do not always practise the same personal hygiene habits as adults.

The conjunctivitis trifecta

Lots of people aren’t aware that there are three main types of conjunctivitis: bacterial conjunctivitis, viral conjunctivitis, and conjunctivitis caused by external irritants. For this reason, it’s important to consult with your doctor if you or your child has conjunctivitis; the types can be impossible to tell apart simply by observation, and the appropriate treatment can differ.[3]

For example, Chlorsig eye drops can effectively treat bacterial conjunctivitis, but they won’t make a drop of difference if your conjunctivitis is caused by an allergy (get it? A drop of difference? Because they are eye drops?).

Viral conjunctivitis

This is your garden-variety conjunctivitis and it is often caused by the same virus that also ‘gifts’ people with a sore throat. You’re likely to pick up viral conjunctivitis in a crowded place like a school, on a packed train, at a sporting event, or in a busy restaurant.

Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious, so you’ll need to wash your hands carefully and avoid contact with others. This virus likes to travel; you’re going to have to cancel its passport. 

To do this, someone with conjunctivitis should:

  • Stay home from work or school
  • Avoid public swimming pools
  •  Aim to limit the spread of the virus from one eye to the other
  • Not share towels, clothes, or bed linen with uninfected family members.[4]

Bacterial conjunctivitis

This type of conjunctivitis is caused by – you guessed it – bacteria. Most people will experience mild redness and irritation, but if you’re experiencing significant pain, loss of vision, or difficulty seeing in bright spaces, your doctor will likely refer you to an ophthalmologist.

A product like Chlorsig eye drops can help to treat bacterial conjunctivitis. Chlorsig eye drops are pharmacy-only medicine, which means you will have to speak with one of our qualified pharmacists before we ship it directly to your door. You won’t need to do this if it has been prescribed by your doctor. Remember to always use only as directed.

To ensure that the infection does not spread to others, please:

  • take all contaminated articles like cotton swabs, sheets, and pillowcases,
  • drive them into your closest wilderness and desert area
  • dig a sizable hole,
  •  throw the contaminated items in the hole, and
  • set them on fire.

Just kidding – do NOT do this. Instead, just wash the linen in hot water and detergent and place disposable items. Ensure that other household members do not use non-disposable articles that have been used by the infected person.

(To reiterate, please do not set anything on fire. This is not a Mad Max film.)

Conjunctivitis caused by external irritants

Conjunctivitis can be caused by an allergic reaction to external irritants like pollen or certain animals.[5]

This type of conjunctivitis can also be caused by certain chemicals and cigarette smoke, so you might want to swap up the brands of cleaning products you use and speak to your doctor about quitting smoking. This may be especially helpful if a loved one seems to get conjunctivitis regularly.

While antibiotics like those found in Chlorsig eye drops are very helpful for treating bacterial conjunctivitis, they won’t do a thing if your conjunctivitis is being triggered by your housemate’s cat, or by the manufacturing plant in your suburb.

So many different types … so what now?

Now that you know about the different types of conjunctivitis, you might feel a little bewildered. It might seem that you now have more questions than answers.

Well, that’s okay.

My real point is this: if you have symptoms of conjunctivitis, please, please, please (is that too many pleases?) speak to your doctor. They will help you to determine the type of conjunctivitis you have and determine the best treatment for you.

You won’t regret it.

References:

[1] https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Conjunctivitis/

[2] https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Conjunctivitis/

[3] https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/conditions/infectious+diseases/conjunctivitis/conjunctivitis+-+including+symptoms+treatment+and+prevention

[4] https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-au/professional/eye-disorders/conjunctival-and-scleral-disorders/viral-conjunctivitis#:~:text=Viral%20conjunctivitis%20is%20a%20highly,or%20immunodiagnostic%20testing%20is%20indicated.

[5] https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/pink-eye-conjunctivitis