The conjunctiva is a thin, transparent mucous membrane lining the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelid. It helps lubricate the eye and aids as a barrier against infectious microbes. The conjunctiva may be divided into three parts: the bulbar or ocular conjunctiva, which lines the sclera, or the white of the eye; the palpebral or tarsal conjunctiva, which lines the inside of the eyelid; and the fornix conjunctiva, located at the place where the sclera and the inner eyelid meet.
The conjunctiva helps lubricate the eye by producing both mucous and tears, though most of the tears are produced by the lacrimal gland at the inner corner of each eye socket. It also helps keep the sclera and interior structures of the eye free of disease, though it is consequently more exposed to the environment and subject to infection. Disorders of the conjunctiva are among the most common eye problems. The surface of the eye is particularly prone to infection and irritation due to allergic reaction and chemicals in the environment.
One of the most common infections affecting the eye is conjunctivitis, in which the membrane lining the eye becomes irritated and inflamed. Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, red eye, or Madras eye, is characterized by a red or pink appearance of the eye surface caused by inflamed blood vessels. It may be caused by allergies, irritants, dryness, or viral or bacterial infection. In addition to redness, conjunctivitis may present with eye swelling, pain or itching, and discharge that can cause the eyelids to stick together. Conjunctivitis may affect one or both eyes, and the infectious varieties can be spread from one eye to the other or transmitted between people.
Conjunctivitis often resolves on its own, but in some cases, antibiotic eye drops or oral medication can help clear up the infection. If the conjunctiva are dry or uncomfortable for any reason, irrigation with saline eye drops can provide relief. A cold compress is another option. In order to promote healthy eyes and to avoid spreading infection, it is important to avoid touching the eyes without washing ones hands first. Also, make sure not to share washcloths, towels, or eye make-up with others.