What is Acute Conjunctivitis?

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  • Written By: A.E. Freeman
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Acute conjunctivitis occurs when the membrane that surrounds the eyelids, the conjunctiva, becomes irritated or infected. The condition can be caused by bacteria or a virus. In some cases, it is caused by an allergic reaction. Acute conjunctivitis usually clears up after a course of treatment and lasts only a short amount of time. Cases of chronic conjunctivitis can occur but are less common.

When someone has acute conjunctivitis, the whites of her eyes typically turn red or pink. The condition is often called pink eye because the blood vessels in the whites swell enough to give the eye a pink color. Other symptoms of conjunctivitis include discharge from the eye that hardens and crusts over while a person sleeps. The discharge may be greenish yellow in color.

A person with acute conjunctivitis may have itchy eyes or may feel as though sand or dirt is between the eyelid and eyeball. Excess tearing is another common symptom of pink eye. In a few cases, the inflammation of the eye may affect the cornea, causing blurry vision or sensitivity to light.


Treatment for acute conjunctivitis depends on its cause. Conjunctivitis caused by a bacteria can be treated with antibiotic eye drops or with an ointment applied to the eyes. Some cases of bacterial conjunctivitis, such as those caused by gonorrhea, require an oral medication for effective treatment. Conjunctivitis caused by a virus will not respond to antibiotic medication. Viral pink eye needs time to clear up on its own.

Conjunctivitis caused by allergies can be treated with antihistamine eye drops or by avoiding the allergen, if possible. Some people find that applying a compress to the eyes soothes symptoms of allergens and viral pink eye. Over-the-counter eye drops or artificial tears may help soothe the irritation as well.

Acute conjunctivitis is very contagious if caused by a bacteria or virus, particularly among children. It's important that someone with pink eye avoid others by not going to work or school until her symptoms clear up or until her doctor says she is not contagious anymore. A person with pink eye can prevent it from spreading by not touching her eyes and by washing her hands frequently.

Any cosmetics used in the infected eyes should be thrown away, as should any contact lenses. A person with conjunctivitis should wear glasses rather than contact lenses for the duration of the infection. He should avoid sharing towels, eye makeup, and anything else that goes near the eye.


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Discuss this Article

Post 3

How do I know if my pink eye symptoms are viral or bacterial? Will antibiotic drops help if it's viral?

Post 2

@literally45-- It's a terrible idea to try and make a diagnosis over the internet, especially for an important and very sensitive organ like the eye. None of us are doctors and you need to take your cat to a vet for a diagnosis and treatment. If it is conjunctivitis, you don't want to delay treatment because left untreated, it can result in damage to the eye and even loss of sight.

Having said that, you did not mention all of the symptoms of conjunctivitis in your post, so that might not be the problem. I've had eye infections several times. I don't know if conjunctivitis looks different in cats, but when I had it, my eye was very swollen, red and painful. My vision was blurry and I felt like touching and rubbing my eye all the time.

Allergies and a blocked tear duct can cause discharge too.

Post 1

My cat has had a clear discharge from her right eye for the past few days. It looks like she's crying. The discharge does dry and become crusty beneath her eye. I haven't noticed any redness in her eye though and she doesn't touch it very often.

Does this sound like conjunctivitis?

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