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If your eyes look red and feel gritty and uncomfortable, or itchy, or if there is a sticky fluid on your eyelids, you may have conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the thin lining that protects the white part of the eyes and inside  the eyelids.  It  can  clear  up  on  its  own after a week or so, but medicines can help fix it more quickly.


What causes conjunctivitis?

  • Infection by either bacteria or viruses is a common cause.
  • Allergy  is  also  a  common  cause  that  may  be  triggered  by  pollen  (hay-fever), dust mites, animal fur and eye make-up.
  • Irritant or chemical conjunctivitis sometimes occurs for example after getting shampoo in your eyes, or from the chlorine in swimming pools.


Symptoms of conjunctivitis generally include:

  • The whites of the eyes look red and swollen or inflamed.
  • The  eyes  will  often  have  a  white  or  yellow  sticky  fluid  or  ‘discharge’  with  a bacterial infection. This can cause the eyelids to stick together or form crusts while you sleep.
  • The eyes are usually more watery and itchy with conjunctivitis caused by an allergy or a virus infection.
  • Your  vision  is  not  normally  affected,  except  the  discharge  may  cause  some blurring which clears with blinking.
  • Your eyes may feel gritty, irritated and sore, but it is not usually very painful.
  • One eye may be affected, but it often spreads to both eyes.


You should see your optometrist or doctor right away if:

  • There is any pain inside the eye or light hurts your eyes.
  • There is any sudden change in your vision.
  • You  have  conjunctivitis  symptoms  and  wear  contact  lenses,  as  contact  lens wearers have a greater risk of more serious eye problems.
  • It is a baby who has symptoms of conjunctivitis.
  • Your symptoms do not improve, or get worse after a few days.


Contact lens wearers

People who wear contact lenses have a greater risk of serious eye infections and eye  ulcers,  so  should  ask  their  optometrist  or  doctor  for  advice  promptly.   

Do not treat an eye infection yourself - go to your optometrist or doctor. If you wear disposable contact lenses, you should throw away the set you are using along with the  lens  case.  

Do  not  wear  contact  lenses  again  until  all  symptoms  have  gone and for 24 hours after the last dose of any eye drops or ointment. 

If you keep the lenses, you might get the same infection again. 

If your lenses are not disposable, make sure you clean and disinfect them thoroughly.


What treatments are available?

Chloramphenicol,  an  antibiotic  eye  drop  or  ointment,  is  available  from  your pharmacist.  It can help you recover from a bacterial infection more quickly.

Put 1 or 2 drops in each eye every two hours while awake for the first two days, then 1 drop every four hours for a further three days.

Alternatively, apply a short 1.5cm strip of ointment along the inside of each bottom eyelid every three hours.  You may use the drops during the day and the ointment at night while asleep.

Lubricant eye drops may reduce eye discomfort and stickiness of conjunctivitis.  For people with allergic conjunctivitis, antihistamines and eye drops called “mast-cell stabilisers” may help improve symptoms.  Ask your pharmacist about these.

How to use eye drops and eye ointment

  • Read the instructions on the label carefully.
  • Wash your hands and rinse thoroughly.
  • Remove contact lenses if being used.
  • Lie down or sit with your head tilted back.
  • Gently pull down the lower eyelid to make a pouch and look up.
  • Drop the right amount of liquid into the pouch, or run ointment along the inside.
  • Sometimes you may taste the drops in your mouth.  Closing the eye and pressing gently on  the  corner  next  to  the  nose,  will  help  keep  the  drops  in  the  eye  where  they  are needed.
  • With a clean tissue gently remove any excess from around the outside of the eye.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly again.
  • Eye drops and ointment can blur your vision for a short time after using them.   Do not drive or operate machinery until you can see clearly again.
  • Don’t use eye make-up until the redness has gone.
  • As with all medicines, do not give eye drops or ointment to other people, even if you think they have the same problem.
  • Once opened, chloramphenicol eye drops can be kept at room temperature, but should be discarded 28 days after first opening the container.
  • Do not keep eye drops and ointments left over after treatment.
  • If you have any questions, please talk to your pharmacist.


Self Care

A clean cloth soaked in warm water can be used to wash away secretions from the eyes and lashes.  Applying a cool damp cloth to closed eyes can also be soothing.

Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria or viruses can easily spread to others, so don’t share face-cloths, towels or pillows.

Wash  your  hands  regularly,  particularly  after  touching  your  eyes,  as  this  can  help prevent spreading the infection to others.

If you have conjunctivitis from an allergy, see if you can find out what might be the cause and try to stay away from it.

Pharmacy Self Care

Other  patient  information  leaflets  similar  to  this  one  are  available  from  our pharmacy.   The  leaflets  are  part  of  the  Pharmacy  Self  Care programme  and  the  32  fact  cards  in  the  programme  provide  information  on  health concerns that can be managed with advice and assistance from your pharmacist.  Ask about Pharmacy Self Care. 


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