What is Viral Conjunctivitis?
The conjunctiva is the clear lining that covers over the sclera (white portion of the eye) which contains most of the blood vessels you see on the eye. This portion of the eye becomes infected with a virus. This is one of the most common infections seen in the eye doctor’s office. This is commonly described as pink eye or a “cold” in the eye. It usually starts in one eye but many times can spread to the other eye as the infection is very contagious.
Causes of Viral Conjunctivitis
The most common cause for viral conjunctivitis is by an adenovirus. It may be associated with an upper respiratory infection, cold, or flu-like symptoms. Other viruses that can cause a viral conjunctivitis are:
Symptoms of a Viral Conjunctivitis
Symptoms are usually mild with a viral conjunctivitis and do not cause any serious complications. In some cases the symptoms can be severe and incapacitating. Common symptoms are as follows:
Epiphora or tearing
Edema or swelling of the conjunctiva
Clear discharge versus a purulent colored discharge for a bacterial conjunctivitis
Photophobia or light sensitivity
A swollen tender lymph node on the cheek in front of the ear
Blurred vision due to the tearing
Bleeding in the conjunctiva and eyelids can rarely occur
Treatment of Viral Conjunctivitis
Treatment is aimed at making the patient comfortable during the first few days. Cool compresses to soothe the eye, pain relievers such as Advil or Aleve for discomfort, and artificial tears. The real treatment is time as with any typical viral infection. Cortisone eye drops can be of assistance in controlling the symptoms of viral conjunctivitis.
Since the disease is contagious, prevention of spread is important. The incubation period for a viral conjunctivitis is only 1 or 2 days, making rapid spread easy. You should be careful if the infection is in only one eye not to spread it to the other eye. Hand washing is very important and direct contact with the eye should be avoided. Indirect contact with a hand towel, paper tissue, and clothing should be carefully monitored.
Just as with a cold, the first few days may be miserable for the patient. Be careful about spreading the infection and follow your eye doctor’s instructions. Complete resolution is to be expected in almost all patients. Very rarely is the infection severe enough to cause any permanent damage.