What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is usually an infection or inflammation of the outer layer of the eye (or the
conjunctiva). It can occur if you have a cold or have been near someone with a cold.
Conjunctivitis is not usually serious, but it can affect both eyes and can be passed from person
to person. Conjunctivitis is sometimes referred to as ‘pink’ or ‘red’ eye.
There are three forms of conjunctivitis:
What are the symptoms of bacterial and viral conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis often starts in one eye, usually spreading to the other eye. It may also cause your
eyelids to stick together in the morning.
Bacterial Conjunctivitis normally causes a yellow or green sticky discharge throughout the
day. They will feel itchy and the eyelids may become swollen.
Viral Conjunctivitis normally causes a watery discharge during the day and present with sticky
discharge in the morning. The eyelids may become very swollen. In most cases of viral
conjunctivitis it does not affect the vision but rarely you might notice the vision becomes blurry
or you may see glare when looking at lights. This is due to the inflammatory reaction causing
small white dots on the cornea. These usually fade with time, but it can take a few weeks.
Risk factors for bacterial and viral conjunctivitis
• Children and the elderly are most at risk of a bacterial conjunctivitis.
• People with weaker immune systems such as those with diabetes
• People who do not wash their hands before inserting or removing contact lenses are
more at risk.
• Often follows a recent cold or sore throat.
Conjunctivitis will normally get better on its own, without any medical treatment, in around one
to two weeks. Bathing and cleaning the eyelids with sterile pads/cotton wool and clean water
(Boil the water and then let it cool down), is normally all that is needed.
Bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic drops or ointment, as this may help to
speed up the process to clear the infection within a few days (5-7 days). However, it should get
better without any drops or ointment.
Viral conjunctivitis there is currently no effective treatment for this, but artificial tears, using a
cold compress (such as clean cotton wool balls soaked in cold water), and a non-steroidal antiinflammatory (NSAID) such as Ibuprofen may make the eyes feel more comfortable. Antibiotic
drops or ointment will not help with viral conjunctivitis.
If a child is below two years of age and has conjunctivitis which is not settling with the above advice, please contact your GP. They may prescribe an alternative antibiotic, such as fucithalmic as either drops or ointment.
If you have conjunctivitis, please visit your local pharmacist for advice. Artificial tears and
antibiotic ointment (Chloramphenicol) can be purchased over the counter (if recommended).
The do’s and don’ts while you have conjunctivitis:
• Don’t share flannels, towels or pillows with anyone else.
• Don’t share your eye drops with anyone else.
• Don’t attend work whilst you have red, watery or sticky eyes if you work with children,
elderly people or patients, or if you handle food in your job.
• Don’t wear your contact lenses until your eyes are better and after 24 hours after the last
dose of ointment/drops (if they were required).
• Do not rub your eyes
• Do not wear eye make up.
• Wash hands regularly with warm soapy water.
• Wash pillows and face cloths in hot water and detergent.
• Use disposable paper tissues to wipe your eyes. Use one tissue per eye to prevent
cross-infection and throw them straight into the bin after use.
When to seek advice?
In most cases this will be self limiting, but however if your sight becomes:
• More blurred over time, changes in your vision, like wavy lines or flashing
• If the pain and redness are getting a lot worse,
• The light starts to hurt your eyes (photophobia).
• Intense redness in 1 eye or both eyes
Please contact your optician under the NI PEARS scheme for an assessment