WHAT IS CONJUNCTIVITIS?

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the transparent membrane (conjunctiva) that covers the white of the eyes (sclera) and the inside of the eyelids. In this most common of eye disorders, the eyes become red and irritated and feel very itchy and stinging.

Infective conjunctivitis appears most frequently in children, often during a cold, sore throat, or measles, but it can appear in people of all ages. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious, sometimes occurring as an epidemic for example in a school.

WHAT CAUSES CONJUCTIVITIS?

The usual cause of conjunctivitis is a virus, bacterium, or allergic reaction. The allergy may be due to any one of a variety of substances such as pollen , eye cosmetics, or contact lens cleaning solution. Conjunctivitis may also be brought on by Irritation of the conjunctiva from wind, dust, smoke or various air pollutants.

It may also appear in people who have a skin condition called seborrhoeic dermatitis. Those exposed to intense ultraviolet radiation such as welders may also develop conjunctivitis if they do not wear eye protection. Babies may occasionally develop conjunctivitis shortly after birth, having picked up an infection from their mother’s cervix or vagina during delivery. Usually the infection is a minor one that clears up within a few days.

However, sometimes a baby’s sticky eye may be due to infection by sexually transmitted Chlamydia ( a form of microorganism between a virus and a bacterium in size) or gonococcus, being carried by the mother without knowing.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS

The symptoms are:

t Red eyes

t Itching and burning eyes

t A thin, Watery eye discharge

t Yellow crust that may seal the eyelids shut upon awakening

t Sensitivity to bright light

t Swollen eyelids

HOW IS CONJUNCTIVITIS DIAGNOSED AND TREATED?

Examination of the eyes will usually indicate conjunctivitis, if it is present. The condition has a typical appearance with redness of the white of one or both eyes.

If infection is suspected, a swab of the eye discharge may be taken, from which a laboratory culture of the organism causing the problem is grown. A bacterial infection will usually be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. If the condition appears to be caused by an allergy, antihistamine or corticosteroid eye drops may be prescribed.

With treatment , most cases of conjunctivitis clear up in a few days and cause no lasting difficulty.

Allergic or irritant conjunctivitis may come and go over the course of months, or even years, particularly if you are exposed to the same irritants again and again.

Over treating this type of conjunctivitis can result in sensitivity to the drugs that are used. A better approach is to try to identify the cause of the irritation; and then to avoid it in the future.

A child with viral or bacterial conjunctivitis should be kept away from school while the disease is being treated to avoid spreading the condition to other children.

WHAT CAN I DO MYSELF?

Avoid touching your eyes, wash your hands frequently, and never share towels and facecloths, even among the family. If you are affected wash your pillowcases in hot water to kill germs that may infect you or others.

If you think you might have an eye infection, see you doctor. Over the counter eye baths and eye preparations may relieve the symptoms, but they will not affect the underlying cause of the problem and could cause a delay in getting professional care.

In addition to any treatment from your doctor, use a sterile saline solution as an eye wash.

Add 5ml of salt to 1 litre of water, boil it for 5-10 minutes, and allow it to cool to room temperature. Then tilt your head over the sink to pour cold water over your eye. Avoid eyecups, they allow germs present on the outside of the eyelid to get into your eyes which can cause infection.

WHEN SHOULD I SEE THE DOCTOR?

Your eyes will be examined and the doctor will ask about any other symptoms to determine what is causing the inflammation. A swab may be taken so the eye discharge can be examined under the microscope, and a laboratory culture grown to identify the cause of infection.

WHAT CAN I DO TO AVOD CONJUNCTIVITIS?

t Refrain from rubbing your eyes.

t Do not share towels or flannels.

t Avoid factors that trigger allergic conjunctivitis, if possible.

t Wear sum glasses when you ski or engage in other winter sports.

t Do not use sun lamps.

t Use safety glasses if your occupation exposes you to intense light.

t If you wear contact lenses, clean and disinfect them daily. Never put a lens in your mouth.

t Do not share mascara or other eye cosmetics.

t Avoid using eye cosmetics that have been opened for longer than recommended.

t Wash your hands frequently. Regular washing should always be encouraged in schools and day care centres.

IS CONJUCTIVITIS DANGEROUS?

Not usually, if treated. However there is one type, trachoma, caused by one of the chlamydia species, that is common in tropical countries.

WARNING – If you usually wear contact lenses you should stop wearing them until the conjunctivitis has completely cleared up. Wear spectacles instead.

Always ensure that your contact lenses are properly cleaned each time you wear them to reduce the risk of infection.

For further information, treatment and training in massage and manipulative therapy, do not hesitate to contact Nevis Holistic Massage Centre, at Farms Estate, Charlestown, Nevis. Tel 469-5464.