At some time, most of us have had sore eyes. This is distressing but, fortunately, is usually not serious. The most common cause is conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the clear covering of the white of the eyes.
Conjunctivitis may be caused by infection, either with bacteria or viruses, or it may be due to an allergy as, for example, occurs in hay fever.
Bacterial infections usually cause a discharge of very sticky pus. Often the eyelids are hard to open in the morning and the eyelashes seem ‘glued’ together. Viral infections may be more painful, with very red eyes and less discharge, and can persist for several weeks. They spread easily and can be passed on by contact and sharing towels, face flannels and so on. Allergic problems cause a gritty feeling, redness, watering and itching of the eyes.
Treatment usually consists of regular bathing with warm, salty water if there is a discharge, and frequently inserted eye drops or ointment as required.
Sometimes more serious conditions can be mistaken for conjunctivitis. Medical attention should always be sought if:
- only one eye is affected;
- there is a lot of pain;
- your pupils are unequal;
- you suspect a foreign body has entered the eye;
- vision is affected; or
- a small baby has discharging or red eyes.
Last Reviewed: 10/04/2013
Your Doctor. Dr Michael Jones, Medical Editor.
1. Conjunctivitis (revised June 2010). In: eTG complete. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2013 Mar. http://online.tg.org.au/complete/ (accessed Apr 2013).
2. Royal Childrenâ€™s Hospital Melbourne. Kids Health Info: Conjunctivitis (updated Nov 2010). http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Conjunctivitis/ (accessed Apr 2013).
3. Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA). Allergic conjunctivitis (updated Jan 2010). http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergic-rhinitis-hay-fever-and-sinusitis/allergic-conjunctivitis (accessed Apr 2013).
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