My eyes are red but is it conjunctivitis?

Most people who develop a red eye believe that they have conjunctivitis and sometimes they are right. What people often don’t realise though, is that there are different types of conjunctivitis and only some can be helped by using an antibiotic eye drop.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis is especially prevalent among children, it is easily transmitted by the eye being

touched and then items shared with others. It is characterised by an eye that is red all over, there is

usually a dark green discharge which can cause the eyes to become stuck together on awakening. The

vision isn’t really affected but because the eye feels sore, it is tempting to touch it. It is actually a self-

limiting condition so doesn’t have to be treated at all but using antibiotic eye drops should speed up the


Allergic conjunctivitis has a similar appearance to bacterial but the eye is likely to be itchy. It’s very

hard not to rub it but if you do, the itching worsens almost immediately. Splashing cold water onto the

eye can help or using a cold compress e.g. wet flannel. The key also is to avoid whatever has triggered

the allergic response. Most commonly, this is hay fever in the summer and house dust in the winter. People have certain types of pollens that they may be allergic to and each of these are usually around

for certain periods, e.g. flowering plants in the Spring, Grass in the Summer, Spores in Autumn. Indoor

dust is the main allergen but animal hair is also a very common cause. Antihistamine tablets and/or eye

drops can help if used regularly throughout the period of exposure. Once the eye is aggravated, it is

necessary to continue treatment for some time afterwards to help speed the healing process. Keeping

windows closed at night (when pollen levels are highest) and washing hands/face after exposure to any

allergen can help.

Viral conjunctivitis also shows as red eyes and watery discharge but there is no treatment for it. It is

associated with contagious diseases; people having a cold and coughing/ sneezing nearby. Since the tears drain into the nasal passageway, forceful nose blowing can cause a virus to move from your respiratory system to your eyes. It can also be passed easily to others, so hand washing and not sharing towels is recommended. Unfortunately, it just needs to be left to run its course.

Always consult a qualified optometrist to confirm a diagnosis!

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