Red, itchy, itchy eyes? Don’t panic: it’s probably Conjunctivitis. This inflammation, often not serious, can be of allergic, viral or bacterial origin. Is it contagious? How to treat this eye disorder? We take stock.
Definition: what is Conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or irritation of the conjunctiva of the eye. As a reminder, the conjunctiva is a thin transparent membrane covering the inner wall of the eyelid (palpebral conjunctiva) and all of the visible parts of the eyeball (bulbar conjunctiva), apart from the cornea.
A red, watery or even purulent eye and a swollen eyelid are suggestive symptoms. This conjunctival disorder is a normal defence reaction of the body. To fight against external aggressions, cells of the conjunctiva produce substances that stimulate the dilation of blood vessels and an influx of protective cells.
“Treatment for almost all Conjunctivitis comes down to washing your eyes. In infectious Conjunctivitis, it eliminates the infectious load located in the conjunctival fornix.
Conjunctivitis: figures that amaze you
Conjunctivitis is a common disease. It would be the first cause of ophthalmological consultation in general medicine (source 1). The origin of this condition is most often bacterial (in 4 out of 10 cases), followed by viral and allergic aetiologies. In children, it is vital in nearly 80% of cases (source 2).
The different types of Conjunctivitis
- Viral Conjunctivitis: it most often affects both eyes. The eyes are red, and the secretions clear. It can be linked to many viruses: adenovirus, measles, rubella, enterovirus, herpes.
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis: most often, it affects only one eye. The eyelid is swollen, the eye is red, with thick yellow purulent discharge. It can be caused by streptococcus, staphylococcus, Haemophilus influenza, chlamydia or even gonococcus;
- Allergic Conjunctivitis: it is one of the usual symptoms of allergies to pneumallergens (dust, animal hair, mites, pollens, etc.). It is often associated with rhinitis ( hay fever) or allergic eczema. Both eyes are red, watery, and may start to itch. These manifestations disappear within hours of exposure to the causative allergen.
- Fumes or corrosive products cause toxic Conjunctivitis. The eyes are red, watery and may sting strongly. Be careful; some chemicals can cause blindness. In the event of intrusion of an agent not suitable for the eyes, rinse thoroughly. If symptoms persist, call a doctor or go to the emergency room.
- Traumatic Conjunctivitis: it is linked to an injury to the conjunctiva, but according to Dr Sirine Hammoud: “In reality, there is no such thing as traumatic Conjunctivitis. On the other hand, a shock to the eye can cause a sore or ulcer of the conjunctiva. “
- Giganto papillary Conjunctivitis is defined as irritation of the eye due to prolonged wearing of ocular prostheses, contact lenses or by the application of eye drops.
- Neonatal Conjunctivitis makes its appearance during the first 4 weeks of an infant’s life. It can be a disease transmitted by the mother during childbirth (chlamydia, gonococcus, genital herpes), but it most often results from a postnatal bacterial infection of the infant.
Note that Conjunctivitis can be acute, chronic (if poorly managed) or recurrent: “Conjunctivitis that always relapses in the same eye can obscure an obstruction of the lacrimal passages. If Conjunctivitis recurs in both eyes, it may suggest extensive inflammation of the eyeball. In these cases, it is preferable to consult”, according to the specialist.
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Causes: why do we get Conjunctivitis?
In the vast majority of cases, Conjunctivitis is linked to a virus or bacteria. It can also be of allergic origin. The other etiologies are rarer.
In 36% of cases (source 2), Conjunctivitis is of viral origin (and in nearly 80% of children). Many viruses can cause Conjunctivitis: certain enteroviruses, adenoviruses, rubella, herpes, shingles or even measles. These viruses are very contagious.
In the majority of cases, viral Conjunctivitis is not serious. But more rarely, certain viruses can cause severe symptoms:
- Enterovirus 70 can cause hemorrhagic Conjunctivitis;
- Conjunctivitis related to herpes (and herpes zoster), also called “ocular herpes,” can cause serious complications such as keratitis. Serious care is then necessary to avoid impaired vision or even blindness, which are to be feared. In the event of ocular damage during a cold sore, it is recommended to consult a doctor.
A bacterium, in the majority of cases
In adults, Conjunctivitis is mostly bacterial. The causal bacteria are streptococcus, staphylococcus or Haemophilus influenza.
Chlamydia and gonococcus are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can infect the eye through direct (during childbirth, mother to fetus) or indirect (usually through the hands) contact with genital secretions.
Chlamydia causes a rare conjunctivitis called trachoma. The complications of this Conjunctivitis due to chlamydia or gonococcus are sometimes serious, which can compromise blindness. Support is therefore essential.
Other causes of Conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis can also result from:
- An allergic reaction (most often to pneumallergens such as pollen, animal hair, dust, etc.);
- Irritation caused by a product not suitable for the eye (soap, cosmetic cream, etc.), corrosive or even toxic, or by contact lenses.
Causes of Conjunctivitis in infants
Conjunctivitis in babies
In infants, Conjunctivitis may be due to:
- Incomplete opening of the tear duct;
- He contracted an infection when he left the mother’s genital tract (genital herpes, chlamydia, gonococcus, etc.).
Mode of transmission and contagion
Be careful; bacterial and viral Conjunctivitis are extremely contagious. They are transmitted by contact of the eye with infected secretions (ocular or genital).
It is recommended to avoid contact with handkerchiefs, towels, sheets or cosmetics of another person and change / wash your personnel regularly (especially in infection). In addition, hand-eye contact should be avoided.
The contagiousness of Conjunctivitis decreases with the taking of the treatments.
Conjunctivitis can be prevented with a few recommendations.
- Do not use creams, treatments and make-up products from other people. Discard these products if they are potentially contaminated.
- Do not touch the eyes of a person with Conjunctivitis.
- In general, avoid hand-eye contact or wash hands before contact with eyes.
- Regularly wash and change towels, pillowcases or washcloths.
- Apply moisturizing eye drops if the eye is dry or slightly irritated.
- Avoid coming into contact with agents responsible for allergic reactions.
- Wear glasses if contact with the allergen cannot be avoided.
- Regularly clean your contact lenses and follow the recommendations of your ophthalmologist or optician for their maintenance.
- Wash your hands before putting on or taking off contact lenses?
- Avoid contact of the eyes with irritating products (cleanser or cosmetics).
- Avoid inhaling toxic products or fumes.
- Maintain good personal hygiene (especially hands and face).