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Conjunctivitis is a common condition which causes the surface of your eye to go red and often sticky and watery, and your eye becomes sore.Conjunctivitis is a common condition which causes the surface of your eye to go red and often sticky and watery, and your eye becomes sore.



The symptoms of conjunctivitis will depend on the causes of the condition.

However, the two main symptoms are usually:

  • eye redness – as a result of the inflammation and widening of the tiny blood vessels in the conjunctiva (the thin layer of cells covering the front of the eyes)

  • a discharge – the conjunctiva contains thousands of cells that produce mucus and tiny glands that produce tears – inflammation causes the glands to become overactive, so that they produce more water and mucus                                                   

  • a burning sensation in your eyes

  • a feeling of grit in your eyes

  • a sticky coating on the eyelashes – usually when you first wake up in the morning

  • an enlarged lymph node (gland) in front of the ear

Only one eye tends to be affected at first, but symptoms usually affect both eyes within a few hours   


Conjunctivitis can be caused by infection from bacteria, viruses or other organisms, also by allergy or inflammation and can also be contagious.

  • Viral conjunctivitis causes watery red eye and can last for two to three weeks even with the empiric treatment. In most cases viral conjunctivitis does not affect the vision but rarely a blurry vision or glares may be noticed. This is due to an inflammatory reaction.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis is more likely to cause a red eye with a sticky yellow discharge.

Risk factors

  • Viral conjunctivitis is contagious and spreads very easily through water droplets (coughs and sneezes) or contact with tissues, flannels, towels, pillowcases etc. Frequent hand-washing and proper disposal of used tissues is important in preventing the spread of the condition to other family members or work colleagues.


Occasionally, viral conjunctivitis can cause inflammation on the cornea, the front window of the eye, or scarring of the conjunctiva, which can affect the sight, however this usually responds well to treatment.


  • There is no antiviral medication for viral conjunctivitis and it does not respond to antibiotic drops as it is not caused by bacteria.

  • The best treatment for viral conjunctivitis is to use artificial tears and simple painkillers, with regular lid cleaning and cold compresses. The conjunctivitis disappears when your body becomes immune to the virus and fights the germs off, just as in a cold or 'flu.  Very rarely, steroid drops are given for severe cases of viral conjunctivitis or when the cornea is affected. 

  • Antibiotic drops can be helpful in cases of bacterial conjunctivitis and are often prescribed for a one or two-week course.  

  • Contact lenses must not be worn during any type of conjunctivitis.

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