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Understanding the 3 Types of Conjunctivitis and How to Treat Them

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If you have unusual discharge from your eyes or your eyes are unexplainably swollen, you may have a condition known as conjunctivitis. To protect your eye health and prevent a worsening of your condition, Tanya Lau, OD, recommends scheduling a comprehensive eye exam as soon as possible to confirm a diagnosis and get the treatment you need.

How conjunctivitis affects your eye health

Conjunctivitis is a condition that causes inflammation in the conjunctiva, the thin layer of tissue that covers the whites of your eye and lines the interior surface of your eyelid.

When your conjunctiva becomes inflamed, you can experience a wide range of symptoms that can be severe enough to interfere with clear vision and your usual activities, such as:

  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Excessive tearing
  • Increased light sensitivity

Discharge from one or both your eyes can crust over, making it difficult to see. Moreover, your eyelids may swell shut. You may also notice the whites of your eyes turning a pinkish color. For this reason, any type of conjunctivitis is often known as pink eye.

Know the common types of conjunctivitis

Although the symptoms of all types of conjunctivitis may be similar to one another, the root cause of eye inflammation is important in determining how to treat your condition.

The three types of conjunctivitis include:

Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is a type of eye inflammation triggered by seasonal or chronic allergies. You may also develop allergic conjunctivitis if you have a foreign object in your eye or if you aren’t properly cleaning or wearing contact lenses.

Infectious conjunctivitis

Inflammation related to infectious conjunctivitis results from a viral or bacterial infection. You can catch the infection being around infected people who are coughing or sneezing or by touching infected objects and then touching your eye.

In the case of a viral infection, you may develop conjunctivitis from frequently blowing your nose, which can help the virus move from your respiratory tract into your eyes.

Chemical conjunctivitis

Chemical conjunctivitis-related inflammation develops when you are exposed to irritants in your environment, such as air pollution, certain chemicals, or when swimming in chlorinated water.

Finding the right treatment strategy for conjunctivitis

Once Dr. Lau determines the source of your conjunctivitis-related inflammation, she creates a treatment plan specific to the type of conjunctivitis you have. For all types of conjunctivitis, you may not be able to wear your contact lenses until the inflammation resolves.

Treating allergic conjunctivitis often involves using artificial tears to clear away allergens and irritants in your eye. You may also need medicated eye drops to treat moderate-to-severe inflammation. You also need to ensure your allergies are well-controlled with antihistamines or other therapies.

When conjunctivitis develops because of a bacterial infection, Dr. Lau may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or eye drops to clear it. It’s important that you follow her recommendations for using antibiotic drops or ointments exactly, or you may experience a return of the infection.

For viral infections, there are no medications that treat the virus, and you will need to let it run its course. Dr. Lau can recommend artificial tears and other products to keep your eyes moisturized and reduce the severity of eye irritation.

To prevent reinfection, you should throw out any makeup or other products you use in or around your eyes if your conjunctivitis is related to a viral or bacterial infection.

Artificial tears may also be beneficial when your conjunctivitis is caused by exposure to chemicals. However, if your eyes have been burned by direct contact with a chemical, you need emergency medical care at the nearest emergency room to protect your sight and overall eye health.

Don’t ignore the warning signs of conjunctivitis. You can schedule an eye evaluation at Mission Viejo Optometric Center today using the online booking feature or by calling the office today.


Written by Dr. Tanya Lau

Dr. Tanya Lau of Mission Viejo Optometric Center in Mission Viejo, California was born and raised in San Francisco and has been living in Southern California since 2012. She graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz and double majored in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology and Psychology. She earned her doctorate in optometry at the Southern California College of Optometry at Marshall B. Ketchum in 2016. She completed her professional internships at Lawton Indian Health Hospital in Oklahoma, Palo Alto Veteran Affairs in California, and Camp Zama United States Armed Forces in Japan.
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