The conjunctiva is a clear membrane that is the tough, leathery outer coat of the eye. The white of the eye actually lies behind the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva has many small blood vessels and it serves to lubricate and protect the eye while the eye moves in its socket.
When the conjunctiva becomes inflamed, this is called CONJUNCTIVITIS. Conjunctivitis can have many causes, such as bacteria (as in "pink eye"), viruses, chemicals, allergies, and more. In many cases it is difficult to determine the primary cause for the inflammation. One of the most common is BACTERIAL CONJUNCTIVITIS.
BACTERIAL CONJUNCTIVITIS is associated with swelling of the lid and a yellowish discharge. Sometimes it causes the eye to itch and a mattering of the eyelids, particularly upon waking. The conjunctiva appears red and sometimes thickened. Often both eyes are involved.
The bacteria most commonly at fault are the Staphylococcus, the Streptococcus, and H. Influenza. This disease is very contagious, and can be easily transmitted by rubbing the eye and then infecting household items, such as towels or handkerchiefs. It is common that entire families become infected.
Conjunctivitis can be directly cured with treatment. Usually antibiotic drops and compresses ease the discomfort and clear up the infection in just a few days. In a few cases, the inflammation does not respond well to the initial treatment with eye drops. In those rare cases a second visit to the office should be made and other measures undertaken. In severe infection, oral antibiotics are necessary. Covering the eye is not a good idea because a cover provides protection for the germs causing the infection. If left untreated, conjunctivitis can create serious complications, such as infections in the cornea, lids, and tear ducts.
Certain precautions can to taken to avoid the disease and stop its spread. Careful washing of the hands, the use of clean handkerchiefs, and avoiding contagious individuals are all helpful. Little children frequently get conjunctivitis because of their poor hygiene.