Bacterial Conjunctivitis

Dr. Russel Lazarus, July 28, 2021

More than 12% of children will have bacterial conjunctivitis each year. 

When your eyes are sore, look pink and there is a sticky discharge, you may want to bury your head, but there are very effective treatments now available.

Over 5 million children in the USA will develop an eye infection annually.

Bacterial conjunctivitis, often referred to as “pink eye,” is the swelling or inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white area of the eye.

What causes bacterial conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis is an infection caused by germs from a person’s skin or respiratory system, most commonly staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria. 

Insects, direct contact with others, poor hygiene, and the use of contaminated eye makeup and facial creams can all cause the infection. It can also be spread by sharing makeup and wearing contact lenses that aren’t your own or aren’t properly cleaned.

Symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis

Common symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis include:

  • Tearing
  • Swelling
  • Burning or irritation
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Itchy or scratchy feeling in the eye
  • Pink or red color in the white of the eyes
  • Crusting of the eyelids or lashes, especially in the morning

How to treat bacterial conjunctivitis

Your eye doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments.

Your bacterial conjunctivitis may improve after three or four days of treatment, but to prevent a recurrence, patients must complete the entire course of antibiotics.

In the most severe cases, topical steroid drops may also be administered to relieve inflammation-related discomfort.

SEE RELATED: Guide to Eye Infections

If you’ve noticed any of the above symptoms, contact an eye doctor near you.

Find an eye doctor near you

How to prevent conjunctivitis from spreading

The best approach to stop conjunctivitis from spreading is to keep your eyes clean and maintain the highest levels of eye hygiene.

Once an infection has been identified, do the following:

  • Don’t touch your eyes with your hands
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water.
  • Change your washcloth and towel, and don’t share them with others
  • Discard eye cosmetics, especially mascara and eyeliner
  • Don’t use anyone else’s personal eye-care items or eye cosmetics
  • If you wear contact lenses, follow your eye doctor’s instructions on proper care

In addition to the above, apply warm compresses to your affected eye or eyes to relieve discomfort.

Soak a clean towel in warm water and wring it dry before gently applying it to your closed eyelids to produce a compress.

If you think you have conjunctivitis, see an optometrist immediately. 

Your eye doctor will be able to determine the root cause of the problem and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

LEARN MORE: Guide to Eye Health

Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you who can diagnose and treat your bacterial conjunctivitis.

Early detection and treatment of any eye infection is essential to keep the infection from worsening, possibly causing corneal scarring and permanent eye damage.