I would take a slightly different view of this. I mostly agree with my colleague's broad description of these different types of conjunctivitis. However, my concern is that it always occurs in one eye only. As students of optometry, we were always advised to be aware of the single red eye!, because it can mean many different things.
As far as simple bacterial, or allergic conjuctivitis is concerned, it is more common for these to occur in both eyes, unless you have inadvertantly subjected the problem eye repeatedly to the same trigger. Viral conjuctivitis is also more likely to affect both eyes. Although there are some exceptions, such as herpetic viral infections which may arise on the corneal surface of one eye.
Another interesting thought would be a recurring corneal erosion. These are breaks in the surface tissue of the cornea, that lead to pain, discharge and redness in the eye. They can resolve by themsleves, although in most cases they require treatment. Often they arise from a single event in your life (which you may not even remember). Ususally something scratches the corneal surface, permanently weakening the surface tissue. At various times thereafter, eyerubbing, or dryness or other trigger can cause the tissue to tear again.
Another likley possibility is dry eye. There is a large number of possible causes of this which I won't go into here (see my other posts).
My advice is wait for the next occurance, then stop whatever you are doing and go straight to your optometrist. Let them see it in action (so to speak)!. This may be the only way to diagnose it. No point going to the optometrist after you're feeling better.
Good Luck with it and feel free to call us if you have any questions
Dr Nicholas Young
Optometrist / Director: Dry Eye Centre
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