Conjunctivitis 

Introduction 

Symptoms of conjunctivitis include watering and itchy eyes, and sometimes a sticky coating on the eyelashes 

Neo-natal conjunctivitis

A more severe type of conjunctivitis that can affect newborn babies younger than 28 days is called neo-natal conjunctivitis.

Neo-natal conjunctivitis can occur if a baby is born to a mother who has a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea (these don't necessarily cause symptoms, so many mothers are unaware that they're infected).

Most cases of conjunctivitis in babies are not particularly serious. But there is a small possibility of serious complications if it's left untreated.

So if you notice any redness in your baby’s eyes, contact your GP for advice.

Conjunctivitis is a common condition that causes redness and inflammation of the thin layer of tissue that covers the front of the eye (the conjunctiva).

People often refer to conjunctivitis as red eye.

Other symptoms of conjunctivitis include itchiness and watering of the eyes, and sometimes a sticky coating on the eyelashes (if it's caused by an allergy). Read more about the symptoms of conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis can affect one eye at first, but usually affects both eyes after a few hours.

What causes conjunctivitis?

The conjunctiva can become inflamed as result of:

  • a bacterial or viral infection - this is known as infective conjunctivitis
  • an allergic reaction to a substance such as pollen or dust mites - this is known as allergic conjunctivitis
  • the eye coming into contact with substances that can irritate the conjunctiva, such as chlorinated water or shampoo, or a loose eyelash rubbing against the eye - this is known as irritant conjunctivitis

Read more about the causes of conjunctivitis.

Treating conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis often doesn't require treatment as the symptoms usually clear up within a couple of weeks. If treatment is necessary, the type of treatment will depend on the cause. In severe cases, antibiotic eye drops can be used to clear the infection.

Irritant conjunctivitis will clear up as soon as whatever is causing it is removed.

Allergic conjunctivitis can usually be treated with anti-allergy medications such as antihistamines. If possible, avoid the substance that triggered the allergy.

It's best not to wear contact lenses until the symptoms have cleared up. Any sticky or crusty coating on the eyelids or lashes can be cleansed with cotton wool and water.

Washing your hands regularly and avoiding sharing pillows or towels will help prevent it spreading.

Read more about treating conjunctivitis.

See your GP immediately if you have:

  • eye pain
  • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • disturbed vision
  • intense redness in one or both of your eyes
  • a newborn baby with conjunctivitis 

Work and school

Public Health England advises that you do not need to stay away from work or school if you or your child has conjunctivitis, unless you are feeling particularly unwell.

If there are a number of cases of conjunctivitis at one school or nursery, you may be advised to keep your child away from the school until their infection has cleared up.

Generally, adults who work in close contact with others, or share equipment such as phones and computers, should not return to work until the discharge has cleared up.

Complications

Conjunctivitis can be a frustrating condition - especially allergic conjunctivitis - but in most cases it doesn't pose a serious threat to health.

Complications of conjunctivitis are rare but when they do occur they can be serious and include:

  • a severe case of allergic conjunctivitis can lead to scarring in the eye
  • in cases of infective conjunctivitis, the infection can spread to other areas of the body, triggering more serious secondary infections such as meningitis (an infection of the outer layer of the brain)

Read more about the complications of conjunctivitis.




Page last reviewed: 14/04/2014

Next review due: 14/04/2016

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 677 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

The 13 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

John Andrews Too said on 26 August 2014

Thought I'd leave some notes on my experiences here as it may help others.

My 10 year old daughter has some allergies and we thought she was a mild hay fever sufferer. At the end of July she developed redness and itching in one eye only, which developed into a bulging, watery eye and droop to that side of her face after a day or two. We never imagined this was hay fever related initially (i was convinced it was infectious bacterial conjunctivitis) as it only affected one eye, but yes it was diagnosed as allergic conjunctivitis by our GP. Antihistamines were prescribed - the common oral versions which are actually available over the counter - and these brought about immediate albeit gradual improvement. We ended up using antihistamines for about 3 weeks. I should also say that we were prescribed and used eye drops. The swelling subsided quite quickly, the wateriness persisted for some time. One aspect which I had never heard of which caused concern was the effect it had on her face - the drooping side recovered after a couple of days, however one side of her upper lip appeared slightly swollen and the other side actually didn't move properly. I am happy to say that after 2 or 3 weeks all of these symptoms had subsided - ever so gradually - to the point where the patient fully recovered.

I hope that if this condition recurs, as it is likely to next year, that we will notice the signs early and that antihistamine medication administered early will prevent the worst of the symptoms.

One last thing - suggest getting advice on the non- drowsy antihistamines from GP or pharmacist, as in our case they seemed just as effective without the obvious side effects.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

rick2 said on 26 May 2014

Conjunctivitis is a highly contagious infection. My 6 year old has this. Why would I send my son to school so that others can catch this. It can be quiet harmful to children with additional health worries. Please do not send your child to school with conjunctivitis.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Jamie Logan said on 30 April 2014

We have just had a situation with nursery with them refusing to keep our 17 mth girl in because her eyes needed treatment. They said that it was highly contagious and she couldn't stay but if had gotten drops from the chemists or doctor it would be fine. Our daughter has a cold at the moment and with it weeping eyes. The pharmacist said that they would not ever supply non prescribed treatment for a person under 2 yrs, so I went to the local hospital A&E walk in clinic and was advised by the doctor there that they would also not prescribe treatment for viral conjunctivitis as the symptom of her weeping eyes is caused by the same cold virus that has given her a runny nose and the discharge is the same and as contagious. So should we keep our children home for a snotty nose also? because that could also be classed as highly contagious? Also if the HPA say that you can go to school, nursery & work then why should we keep the child at home? especially if they have no other signs of illness high temp ect..... Me and my wife both have to work to survive and pay a lot of money for child care and we would keep her off nursery if she was showing signs of being ill but we can't keep her home for a symptom of a cold.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Tam302 said on 12 February 2014

I got conjunctivitis along with a throat and lung infection but left it for a day or two and it got worse. When I got to the hospital they said that if I left it longer it would scar my eye so I would recommend everyone with suspected conjunctivitis to go get it checked as soon as possible but if you can't straight away then clean with a cotton wool ball and warm but not boiling water. The docs will give some eye drops that will manage the infection.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

lori86 said on 31 December 2013

My 1yo has conjuntivitus best way i found to help it till you get to see a doctor is cooled boiled water.... use a cotton bud wipe eye with one side then turn over use otherside.... you only use each side once or it will spread. This advice was given by gp when oldest son had it.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Pinkichiban said on 20 November 2013

The advice to send children into school is just wrong. My daughter is now on a course of antibiotics due to the selfishness of others. No wonder antibiotics are losing their efficiency. I shall be keeping my daughter home so as not to spread to others.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

ablonge787 said on 20 September 2013

The web address has been edited out of my last comment which makes it look a bit silly. It was a reference to the NICE guidelines which can be found by googling NICE acute infective conjunctivitis.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

ablonge787 said on 19 September 2013

The reasons for them recommending continued attendance at school are that they regard it as a mild illness like having a cold, as explained here:

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

charlieb14 said on 25 July 2013

I see what people are saying by it being contagious but go to work/school anyway, but if you wash your hands if you touch your eyes...like it says, don't really see how it would spread.
Get hand gel, and if u touch your eyes, use the hand gel, and or wash your hands.
I have this at the moment, and I am working two jobs, an office job and one in a shop with customers. just have to be careful when touching your eye/s.

Not a nice infection. I left mine, went AnE, (bit extreme) but because I didn't know what it was, the nurse told me off...plus I have had previous eye problems...but still.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

steevmak said on 07 June 2013

In ny opinion it is extremely irresponsible to advise young children to go to school unless there are "a number of cases" at school or nursary. A mini-epidemic of conjunctivitis is started at a school by a single parent who may take their child to school. As conjunctivitis is extremely contagious, the infection will spread quickly, butif it is "nipped in the bud" it will not spread at all.

The Health Protection Agency and the NHS should really review this official policy.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

User775723 said on 25 May 2013

I am amazed and shocked to read your following advise in the above page.

''Infective conjunctivitis is easily spread, although it isn't necessary to stay away from work or keep your child away from school.''

So you are advising that it is highly contagious but you would like people to go out and spread it at the work place and also at the school and spread the misery to other healthy individuals.

Are you sure that this is the right advise???

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Glaucus said on 07 April 2013

It can be a thorough nuisance, affecting my vision, causing a black eye and make me think I am going blind. Got it again this year; now. A & E said it was a virus last time. Best to wait and see your GP. I still do not know how to treat the symptoms. Paracetamol seems as useful as anything.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

mum of toddler said on 21 January 2012

very helpful - my 2 and half year old has a squint and just been diagnosed with infective conjunctivitis and I was worried about her future eye health - this helps a lot.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Eye health

Find out about eye tests, protecting your eyes from injury, contact lens safety and laser eye surgery

Red eye

Common causes of a red eye, and what you should do