What is Conjunctivitis?

Conventional remedies
Causes At home treatment
Symptoms Prevention
Supplements References

By: Rachael Cuellar, Sara Friberg, and Joel Navarro

What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva.  "The conjunctiva is a thin, translucent, vascularized mucous membrane that covers the inner surface of the eyelids and the front of the eye, with exception of the cornea" (Granet, ps8, 2002). The conjunctiva is the first line of defense against eye infection and also helps in maintaining eye moisture. Conjunctivitis is commonly known as pinkeye.

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Image Courtesy of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Ref # NEA05



The three main causes of conjunctivitis are bacterial infection, viral infection, and allergic reaction. Bacterial conjunctivitis is acquired through direct contact with an infected person, and the three main forms of the disease are pinkeye, inclusion conjunctivitis, and infectious hyper acute mucopurulent conjunctivitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis is highly contagious. Viral conjunctivitis often accompanies the common cold, and is caused mainly by an adenovirus. It is also highly contagious. Allergic conjunctivitis is often seasonal or can be triggered by an allergen such as pollen.

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The symptoms of conjunctivitis can vary depending on which type of conjunctivitis one has contracted, therefore a type-dependent list of symptoms is provided below.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis:

• Usually affects both eyes
• Heavy mucus discharge
• Eyelids may stick together with discharge
• Swelling of the conjunctiva
• Redness
• Tearing

Image Courtesy of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Ref # NEA04

Viral Conjunctivitis:

• Watery discharge
• Eye irritation
• Redness
• Usually affects only one eye
• Tearing
• Often included in a viral cold

Allergic Conjunctivitis:

• Tearing
• Redness
• Itching
• Stringy discharge
• Usually affects both eyes
• Swollen eyelids
• Often seasonal

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Many supplements can be taken to either prevent the occurrence of conjunctivitis or help combat the symptoms of the disease.

• Vitamin A is an essential eye nutrient, because if it is not present in sufficient amounts, the eyes will be more susceptible to dryness, irritation, and infection.

• Vitamin C is essential for immune system strength.

• Bioflavonoids such as pycnogenol can provide antioxidants and when combined with vitamin C can reduce the necessity for antihistamines, which are used to fight allergic conjunctivitis.

• Zinc helps fight infection and aides in the assimilation of vitamin A into the system.

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Conventional Remedies

The remedies for conjunctivitis are dependent upon the type of conjunctivitis contracted. For bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotic eye drops or ointments, which can combat a wide range of bacteria, are frequently prescribed. In one study, it appeared that povidone-iodine was an effective treatment for bacterial and chlamidial conjunctivitis in children.  (Finn, 107, 2004)  While there is no cure for viral conjunctivitis, one may use a cool compress to relieve some of the irritation. Allergic conjunctivitis may be alleviated by an antihistamine, steroid eye drops, or, if possible, the removal of the associated allergen. To relieve the symptoms of conjunctivitis, one should protect the eyes from irritating substances such as dirt, avoid using makeup, remove contact lenses, or use non-prescription artificial tears.

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At-Home Treatments

Although conjunctivitis will clear up on its own after ten days to a couple of weeks, there are many alternative treatments available to soothe and ease the eye irritation associated with the disease.

Herbal Remedies:

Washing the eye four to five times a day with herbal infusions and compresses can aide circulation, remove toxins, kill infections, and assist glands and nerves. Cool and strain the infusions before using to avoid harming the eye.

• 1 teaspoon dried eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) steeped in 1 pint boiling water. Eyebright is used to relieve redness and swelling of the eye.

• 2 to 3 teaspoons chamomile (Matricaria recutita) in 1 pint boiling water. Chamomile reduces phlegm and has anti-inflammatory and astringent properties.

• Ί teaspoon aloe in 3 cups hot water. Aloe soothes the eye.

• 1 teaspoon mesquite leaves in 1 pint boiling water. (Mendoza Bruce, 2004)

• If the above are unavailable, marigold, goldenseal root, fennel, nettle, horsetail, cornflower, Echinacea, plantain, or melilot can be used to make soothing compresses.

• Slices of raw potato placed on eyelids can assist in decreasing swelling.

• A cool, moist teabag or compress over the closed eye can be used for allergic conjunctivitis.

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Both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are highly contagious and are "acquired by direct contact with another infected person" (Gross), but several measures can be taken to either prevent spreading conjunctivitis to others or to prevent contracting the disease if someone in your household has it.

Preventative measures include:

• Refrain from touching or rubbing the infected eye

• Wash hands frequently

• Wash discharge from eye twice daily using fresh cotton ball or paper towel, then discard and wash hands

• Wash bed linens, pillowcases, washcloths, and towels with hot water and detergent and do not share with other family members

• Avoid the use of eye makeup

• Don’t share eye makeup with others

• Don’t share contact lenses with others

• Wear eyeglasses instead of contacts, or clean contacts frequently

• Wash hands after applying eye drops, ointments, or compresses

Be sure to keep children with pinkeye out of school for a few days, as it is very contagious.

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Last updated July 20, 2004
For more information contact Dr. Mary O'Connell at

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