The conjunctiva is the clear membrane which encircles and protects the eyeball. When you look at the white of the eye you are really looking through the conjunctiva at the sclera, the leathery tough outer coat of the eye. The conjunctiva has many small blood vessels running through it. The purpose of the conjunctiva is to lubricate, protect and to allow the eye to move in its socket.
   CONJUNCTIVITIS is an inflammation of the lining of the eye. It may be caused by a number of different agents. These include bacteria (as in"pink eye"), viruses, chemicals, allergies, or by a number of other possibilities Sometimes it is difficult to tell exactly which of the above is the real cause.
  BACTERIAL CONJUNCTIVITIS is characterized by lid swelling, a yellowish discharge, sometimes a scratchy feeling in the eye, itching and mattering of the lids, especially in the mornings upon awakening. The conjunctiva is red and sometimes thickened. The most common bacteria are the Staphylococcus, the Streptococcus, and H. Influenza. Often both eyes become involved. This disease is very contagious, and sometimes entire families are infected. We don't usually use laboratory cultures to make the diagnosis as this is expensive and time consuming. Most of the infections are over by the time the results of the lab tests are back.
   TREATMENT is curative. Usually antibiotic drops and compresses ease the discomfort and clear up the infection in just a few days. Covering the eye is not a good idea because the eye acts like an incubator for the germs if treated this way. If left untreated, several serious complications may occur. These potential problems include infection in the cornea, lids and tear ducts. In more severe infections oral antibiotics are necessary. Occasionally the infection does not respond well to the drops which were prescribed. In those rare cases a second visit to the office should be made and other measures undertaken.
   PREVENTION is important in avoiding the disease and in stopping its spread.Careful hand washing, the use of clean handkerchiefs, and avoidance of contagious individuals are all helpful. Little children frequently get conjunctivitis because of their contact with germs and lack of understanding about hygiene.

© nholland 2002