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Conjunctivitis or ‘Red Eye’ disease

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When we talk about conjunctivitis or “red eye” as it is more commonly known here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I believe that it is necessary to first identify what is the conjunctiva. {{more}}

This is a membrane that covers the internal surface of the eye lids and surrounds the anterior white part of the eyeball, almost transparent with blood vessels. These blood vessels dilate on making contact with infectious agents or irritants producing a redness in the eye. Therefore we can define conjunctivitis as an inflammation of the conjunctiva membrane.

There are many ways to classify conjunctivitis but we will do so according to the agent responsible; infectious – produced by bacteria and virus, allergic – produced by allergic reactions and irritating – due to trauma, chemical or mechanical substances for example smoke, gas et cetera.

What can be seen generally in all of these types of conjunctivitis? Swollen eyelid (s), redness, tears, sensation of foreign body, photophobia (light sensitivity), and secretions – watery in allergies, mucopurulent or purulent in bacteria infection, and serous in viral infection are some of the more common findings.

Each one of these conjunctivitis has its particularities of which we will mention a few briefly. Itching of the eyes and watery secretions with repeated frequency is characteristic of allergic conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis presents with whitish-yellowish purulent secretions in both eyes accompanied by pain, whereas in viral conjunctivitis the secretions are serous with one eye affected and occasionally fever, tiredness and preauricular adenopathy.

How is conjunctivitis treated? There is a specific treatment for each type but in all cases there should be proper cleaning of the eyes and the use of cold compresses several times per day, as well as eye drops and systemic medications (antibiotics, antiviral, antiallergics) according to the cause and diagnosis made by your ophthalmologist.

My advice to you my fellow reader, is that whenever you have redness of the eye with any of the above mentioned characteristics, please see your ophthalmologist and do not auto medicate as this can lead to complications in instances such as corneal inflammation (keratitis), corneal ulcers and other infections. Of utmost importance is thorough hand washing and the use of personal towels or washcloths as some of these conjunctivitis can be transmitted from one person to the other.

What do you know about pterygium? This will be our next topic.

l Dr. Pedro A.F. Suarez is a Consultant Ophthalmologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

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