You may have some time or the other suffered from redness of the eye, itching, swelling of eyelids, along with excessive watering of eyes and mild tenderness; these may have been accompanied by crust formation on the eyelashes and sides of your eyes especially after sleeping. At that time someone would have told you that you are suffering from Aashob-i-Chashm or Aankhein aana.

These are actually symptoms of conjunctivitis, red-eye which is one of the most common and contagious eye conditions that brings a patient to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) or a general practitioner.

The redness generally occurs within the inner portion of the eyelids and white portion of the eyeball, known as conjunctiva — hence the name conjunctivitis — due to the accumulation of blood in the small blood vessels. Generally there is no critical effect on the sight, but vision might get hampered due to the unwanted discharge which requires regular washing.

If you have by chance contracted conjunctivitis, take precautions so that you do not spread it to others

Though anyone could be affected, individuals, who have low immunity levels, are more susceptible to allergies during the changing weather, dust and other environmental factors. Ophthalmologists associate the onset of winter and the beginning of the monsoon with the rapid spread of conjunctivitis in Pakistan.

Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are two of the main types of infectious conjunctivitis that are common in Pakistan along with the allergic version of the inflammation. Lack of hygiene, sanitary conditions and overall cleanliness, both personal and general plays a vital role in the outbreak or curbing of this contagious ocular infection. Once the outbreak occurs hand-washing and avoiding the dreaded touch plays a pivotal role in limiting the spread. There are a number of bacteria and viruses that are associated with the onset of conjunctivitis.

It is, however, more critical to understand and adopt the practices that will help reduce the chances of developing conjunctivitis in the first place and/or reduce any further spread to the other eye or to your loved ones, once it has already occured.

It is significant for a person with conjunctivitis to regularly wash his hands, while keeping a personal soap and towel to reduce any chance of further spread. S/he should try to limit touching the other eye, especially after touching / rubbing the infected eye as conjunctivitis can spread from one eye to another. Use of disposable tissue or wipes to limit any contamination is advised while drying the eyes. It is better that the eye is cleaned from the side closer to nose while moving outward towards the side which is closer to ear.

As a precautionary measure, one should avoid sharing any eye make-up, eye drops and medication that was previously being used by an individual during conjunctivitis. Lenses also prove to be a cause of constant irritation while further augmenting the signs of inflammation. In case of increased visual sensitivity and discomfort in light, sunglasses should be used. Personal, clean, warm or cold compresses can be used to soothe the eyes as per one’s liking.

Although there is no specific cure, especially for viral conjunctivitis which is likely to complete its whole cycle of four to seven days before it clears out, adopting the above mentioned precautions will help limit the spread. The medications and drops, used for viral conjunctivitis, are more to provide relief and comfort than to treat the underlying cause.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is generally treated with different topical antibiotic eye drops and ointments. New advancements have been made with the introduction of new antibiotics which are even more effective and provide complete treatment.

Any medicine especially antibiotic drops should only be used after consultation with your physician who will prescribe medicine after evaluation of the extent and severity of the conjunctivitis considering any other health related limitations that you may be prone to.

The writer is a physician and tweets @Ali_Shahid82

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 18th, 2015

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