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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What causes conjunctivitis?

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  • I have thirty years in private practice as an optometrist at the same location in Leichhardt and have done four postgraduate courses pertaining to Diseases … View Profile

    Basically there are four types of conjunctivitis: bacterial, viral, allergic and chronic/irritative.
    Both bacterial and viral tend to be self-limiting. That is, they resolve even without treatment.

    Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually caused by a staphylococcal infection which resolves with a 5-7-day course of antibiotic eyedrops. The infection may be associated with rubbing the eye with a dirty finger, contact lens wear, or generally reduced immunity. Symptoms include a red, irritated eye; with pus, especially on awakening. 

    Viral conjunctivitis may be caused by adenoviral infection and so is usually associated with influenza. It may last two or three weeks. Treatment may include lubricating drops, hot or cold compresses, antihistamine/vasoconstrictor drops. Symptoms include burning, tearing and slight redness.

    Allergic conjunctivitis may be seasonal or idiosyncratic (ie specific to an individual). Treatment may include antihistamine-type drops, cool compresses, oral antihistamine. The characteristic symptom is itchiness. Stringy, white discharge may also be present.

    Chronic/irritative conjunctivitis is usually associated with chronic dry eye or blepharitis (eyelid-margin inflammation). Treatment may include lubricating drops or ointment, hot compresses, eyebath, antiinflammatory drops or ointment. Symptoms may include chronic redness, itchy/burning irritation.

    If the conjunctivitis lasts longer than four weeks other possibilities include sexually-transmitted disease or rosacea (a skin disease), either of which requires oral antibiosis.       


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