Conjunctivitis (conjunctivitis)

Conjunctivitis is one of the most common eye diseases. For red, sticky and watery eyes and burning eyes, the most likely diagnosis is conjunctivitis. Especially babies and children often suffer from these symptoms, but also adults are affected. In technical terms, conjunctivitis is called conjunctivitis. Common causes of pathogen-induced conjunctivitis are viruses or bacteria. But many other causes such as dry eyes, allergies or dust can cause inflammation of the conjunctiva. For information on how to detect conjunctivitis and tips for diagnosing and treating conjunctivitis, see the following article.

Function of the conjunctiva

The conjunctiva is a protective mucosal layer that extends over the inner edge of the eyelids and over the outwardly visible eyeball. It plays a role in the distribution of the tear film and in the defense against pathogens. In conjunctivitis, the otherwise transparent layer reddened, because the body by an increased blood flow tries to combat the inflammation.

Most conjunctivitis is relatively harmless and will stop after a period of 10 to 14 days by itself. Nevertheless, there are diseases whose symptoms are very similar to those of conjunctivitis and which can be quite dangerous to the eye and vision. It is very important that, for example, an acute cataract or inflammation of the deeper eye layers such as the iris or the cornea are excluded.

Especially with contact lens wearers, there is a risk that conjunctivitis also spreads to the cornea. Therefore, a supposed conjunctivitis should always be taken seriously and clarified by a doctor. A simple treatment with home remedies is therefore not recommended.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis

The following signs of conjunctivitis can be recognized:

  • The key symptom of conjunctivitis is a red, watery eye.
  • Those affected feel a burning sensation or itching in their eyes, as if foreign bodies or sand were in the eye.
  • Especially in the morning, the eyelids are often swollen and sticky and secreted in the corners of the eye. This secretion can be purulent, watery or slimy.
  • The eyes can also be sensitive to light and otherwise well tolerable light sources dazzle those affected strongly.
  • Accompanying corneal inflammation can also cause severe pain.

Various causes of conjunctivitis

There are many different causes of conjunctivitis. She can:

  1. caused by pathogens (bacteria, viruses or other germs)
  2. occur in the context of an allergy or
  3. simply due to environmental substances, dry eyes or contact lenses

Depending on the cause of the symptoms and the treatment of conjunctivitis differ - therefore, should be suspected of conjunctivitis always a doctor visited.

Pathogens as a cause - infectious conjunctivitis

If the conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria or viruses or other germs - ie infectious - it can be highly contagious. As the eyes burn and itch, the affected people rub in the eyes and can spread the germs and infect other people.

Therefore, special hygiene is necessary for infectious conjunctivitis. Family members should always pay attention to thorough hand cleaning and use a towel other than the person concerned to reduce the risk of infection.

Most bacteria or viruses are the cause of infectious conjunctivitis. Fungi or parasites are rarely the cause of conjunctivitis.

Bacteria as a cause

Bacterial conjunctivitis caused by bacteria is less common in adulthood, but children are more likely to be affected. Bacterial conjunctivitis usually begins in only one eye and is characterized by a purulent, yellowish-green secretion. The inflammation can also affect both eyes. The affected eye is often glued in the morning and thickened eyelids.

A particular and more dangerous form of bacterial conjunctivitis may be gonococci (Neisseria gonorrhoae). The symptoms are particularly pronounced here. Highly festered eyes, a swollen conjunctiva and swollen lymph nodes behind the ears mark this form of conjunctivitis. Since these bacteria are often associated with infections in the genital tract, sexually active couples are increasingly affected. Popularly, the gonococcal infection is also known as gonorrhea.

Occasionally, adults can become infected with chlamydia. Like gonococci, these bacteria are preferentially located in the genital tract of young adults. If the pathogens in the pool get into the conjunctiva, it is called the so-called swimming pool conjunctivitis. This often affects children. In adults, conjunctivitis with Chlamydia trachomatis is often chronic because, like the infection in the genital tract, it often goes unnoticed.

Viruses as a cause

Among infectious conjunctivitis, the form caused by viruses is the most common. Usually, viral conjunctivitis heals without treatment without treatment.

However, a cold with so-called adenoviruses can concomitantly lead to conjunctivitis. Most people complain of typical cold symptoms such as fever, sore throat and thickened lymph nodes on the neck, which then grafted on the conjunctivitis. In this form, the cornea is often affected and the sharpness of the affected person is impaired. This is called keratoconjunctivitis. Here an ophthalmologist should definitely be visited.

Viral conjunctivitis is particularly contagious because symptoms usually do not appear until a few days after infection, but the person is already contagious for so long. Even handshakes, speech or coughing can spread the infection. Therefore, especially children are at risk of becoming infected with keratoconjunctivitis.

Herpesviruses can also trigger conjunctivitis. These viruses can be very dangerous to the eye and vision.

Most viral conjunctivitis affects the second eye within one to two days due to the high risk of infection. As with a bacterial inflammation, the eyes are often glued in the morning. The adherent secretion is usually watery and slimy in a viral inflammation, in contrast to the yellowish pus, which is secreted in bacterial conjunctivitis.

4 facts about conjunctivitis - © istockphoto, vchal

Allergic conjunctivitis

In the spring, many people suffer from hay fever, in which the eyes itch and runny because of a grass or pollen allergy. Then one speaks in the jargon of a rhinoconjunctivitis. In the allergic form of conjunctivitis, the eye usually tears with a clear fluid without pus.

Allergic conjunctivitis has very similar symptoms to viral conjunctivitis. A special feature may be cobblestone protrusions of the conjunctiva, which show up especially under the eyelids.

Non-allergic and non-infectious forms

Often only too dry eyes can cause irritation of the conjunctiva and thus inflammation. For example, by blinking rarely at work on the computer, the eyes are not sufficiently moistened with tears and ignite. Then it is necessary to stimulate the production and distribution of tears on the eye and to keep eyes moist with eye drops. Then the symptoms relieve quickly. Draft, for example, by air conditioning or wind, can also cause dry eyes and thus favor conjunctivitis.

Environmental substances such as dust, smoke (for example cigarette smoke) or the chlorine in the swimming pool can also cause irritation to the conjunctiva and conjunctivitis develops.

If a foreign object has caught in the eye, it may still itch after the removal of the ophthalmologist and give the affected person a feeling as if the foreign body were still in the eye. Here, the affected person is mostly mistaken and it is a slight inflammation of the conjunctiva of only a short duration. These non-allergic and non-infectious forms of conjunctivitis usually improve within 24 hours.

With a recurring conjunctivitis one should consider an unrecognized or not sufficiently corrected ametropia as a trigger - sometimes glasses can then already remedy.

The conjunctivitis through contact lenses

Contact lens wearers are at an increased risk of contracting conjunctivitis as dirt or the lens itself can cause mechanical friction. In addition, under the contact lens dirt and bacteria can accumulate, which then trigger conjunctivitis. Another symptom can be an injury, including a hole in the conjunctiva. Therefore, careful lens cleaning and hygiene is particularly important for contact lens wearers.

When the first signs of conjunctivitis appear, contact lenses should be removed immediately and stopped until complete resolution of the symptoms.

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