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What is Bacterial Conjunctivitis?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2016
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Bacterial conjunctivitis is an acute infection of one or both eyes. Infection occurs when the clear, outer layer of the eye called the conjunctiva is exposed to a contagious bacteria, such as a strain of streptococci or staphylococci. Bacterial conjunctivitis is common in people of all ages and geographic locations, and it usually does not cause long-term health problems. Topical or oral antibiotics are usually very effective at relieving symptoms and promoting a fast recovery.

Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is a common ailment of children and adults. Viruses are usually the culprits in conjunctivitis infection, but certain types of bacteria can also grow and thrive in the conjunctiva. Staphylococci, streptococci, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or one of several less common contagious bacteria may cause pink eye symptoms. Young children, elderly people, and individuals who have autoimmune disorders are at the highest risk of contracting bacterial conjunctivitis due to their weak immune systems. In addition, an infant can develop conjunctivitis at birth if the mother has an active chlamydia or gonorrhea infection.

Bacterial conjunctivitis usually causes noticeable symptoms within a day or two of infection. The eye becomes red, itchy, and tender, and it may produce excessive tears. As an infection worsens, a thick yellowish pus tends to build up and ooze from underneath the eyelid. Pus hardens and thickens as it dries out, leading to crusting. Some people are unable to open their eyes in the morning due to excessive crust buildup.

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A person who experiences bacterial conjunctivitis can usually ease some of his or her symptoms at home. A warm, moist washcloth can help remove crust, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs can lessen pain and itching. If symptoms worsen or persist for more than a week, an individual should schedule an appointment with his or her doctor.

A physician can usually diagnose conjunctivitis by examining the eye and asking about symptoms. He or she may scrape a small sample of infected tissue and have it analyzed for specific pathogens. After determining the type of bacteria involved, the doctor can determine the best course of treatment.

In most cases, patients are prescribed antibiotic eye drops or topical ointments to be applied daily. Severe infections caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea may require a course of oral medications. In addition to using medications, patients are given information about how to prevent infecting others, such as not sharing towels and washing their hands regularly. Most people experience full recoveries from bacterial conjunctivitis within about two weeks.

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Discuss this Article

stoneMason
Post 3

Is bacterial conjunctivitis contagious? If I touch my eye, will the bacteria spread to my skin?

SteamLouis
Post 2

@anamur-- Actually, papillary conjunctivitis can be caused by bacteria as well.

Conjunctivitis can be categorized by what's causing it as well as which part of the eye it is affecting. Bacterial conjunctivitis means that the inflammation is caused by bacteria (vs viral or allergic conjunctivitis). Papillary conjunctivitis means that the inner lining of the eyelid is inflamed. Papillae refers to the bumps that show up on the inside of the eyelid due to the inflammation and irritation.

If you have bacterial conjunctivitis now, it means that your eye is inflamed because of a bacterial infection, but your eyelid is not affected, it's just your conjunctiva.

serenesurface
Post 1

What's the difference between bacterial conjunctivitis and papillary conjunctivitis? I had papillary conjunctivitis several months ago. It was treated and now I have the same symptoms, but this time, my doctor said that it's bacterial conjunctivitis. I'm confused.

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