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.
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.