What is conjunctivitis?
Do you have itchy, red-eye?
Red-eye or conjunctivitis a very common and annoying problem. This can affect both kids and adults.
What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the thin membrane that covers the whites of the eyes. There are three main types of conjunctivitis: allergic, viral, and bacterial.
- Allergic conjunctivitis often accompanies other allergy symptoms like itchy, runny nose, or sneezing.
- Viral conjunctivitis is the most common and is triggered by the same viruses that cause the common cold. Therefore, it is usually accompanied by cold symptoms like a runny nose and cough.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis causes a thick discharge and responds to antibiotic eye drops or ointment.
What is the treatment of conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis should be treated according to the cause. But it can be hard to distinguish between viral and bacterial conjunctivitis simply by looking at it, so many doctors treat with a topical antibiotic “just in case” it is bacterial. However, according to ophthalmologists bacterial conjunctivitis often goes away on its own, and the practice of treating everyone “just in case” is irresponsible.
Research by the American Academy of Ophthalmology in the journal Ophthalmology shows just how big a problem the overuse of antibiotics for conjunctivitis has become. Even in the US they found that more than 60?ses of conjunctivitis were treated with antibiotics although that may not have been necessary.
White, more educated, and more affluent patients were more likely to fill antibiotic prescriptions, and the type of doctor making the diagnosis made a difference. Emergency room doctors, urgent care physicians, internists, and pediatricians were more likely to prescribe antibiotics than ophthalmologists.
Why routine antibiotics for conjunctivitis should not be used
Overprescribing antibiotics, even topical ones like drops and ointments, can do more harm than good. Patients may suffer from side effects and allergic reactions to the medication. Parents are asked to administer unnecessary eye medication to an infant or child, which can be incredibly challenging. And the inappropriate use of antibiotics continues to fuel resistance, making antibiotics less and less effective when we really need them.
But as a doctor some time it becomes difficult to explain to patients that this problem is going to go away without any problem. People want a quick fix and doctors need to prescribe unnecessary medication. And some schools won’t let a child with conjunctivitis return to class without proof they have been on an antibiotic for 24 hours. However, we have to educate schools and the public at large that most conjunctivitis is harmless and will go away on its own and that most cases of conjunctivitis should not be treated with an antibiotic.
Here’s what you can do
There are some simple things you can do at home to ease your symptoms. Warm compresses can help loosen eyelid crusting. Cool compresses and artificial tears can soothe irritated eyes. Over-the-counter eye drops and antihistamines can help ease the itching and tearing associated with allergic conjunctivitis.
Bottom line: if you think you or your child has conjunctivitis, call your doctor’s office. They can often make recommendations over the phone, but don’t be surprised or upset if they say you don’t need a prescription. They are doing you and the public at large a favor.
Dr. Rakesh Rai. MS, FRCS, MD, CCST, ASTS fellow.