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Conjunctivitis (Pinkeye)

A condition in which the conjunctiva (membranes lining the eyelids and covering the white part of the eye) become inflamed or infected. Also called pinkeye.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Conjunctivitis

This term describes a group of diseases that cause swelling, itching, burning, and redness of the conjunctiva, the protective membrane that lines the eyelids and covers exposed areas of the sclera, or white of the eye. Conjunctivitis can spread from one person to another and affects millions of Americans at any given time. Conjunctivitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, allergy, environmental irritants, a contact lens product, eyedrops, or eye ointments.

At its onset, conjunctivitis is usually painless and does not harm vision. The infection will clear in most cases without requiring medical care. But for some forms of conjunctivitis, treatment will be needed. If treatment is delayed, the infection may worsen and cause corneal inflammation and a loss of vision. NIH - National Eye Institute

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Acute infective conjunctivitis in primary care: who needs antibiotics? An individual patient data meta-analysis

BACKGROUND: Acute infective conjunctivitis is a common problem in primary care, traditionally managed with topical antibiotics. A number of clinical trials have questioned the benefit of topical antibiotics for patients with acute infective conjunctivitis.

Topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in allergic conjunctivitis: meta-analysis of randomized trial data

PURPOSE: To assess the effect of topical Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory drugs in the treatment of allergic conjunctivitis.

Diagnostic impact of signs and symptoms in acute infectious conjunctivitis: systematic literature search

This review attempted to assess the diagnostic utility of signs, symptoms or both for the differential diagnosis of bacterial and viral conjunctivitis. The authors' conclusion that the use of signs and symptoms were not based on evidence accurately reflected the fact that no eligible studies were located, and appeared likely to be reliable.

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Summaries for consumers

Conjunctivitis: Overview

The inside of the eyelid is called the conjunctiva. Conjunctivitis makes the eyes red and inflamed. Often, both eyes are affected.

Conjunctivitis: Do antibiotics help?

In more than half of all people who have conjunctivitis, the infection goes away without treatment within a week. Antibiotic eye drops or ointments can speed up recovery. Side effects are very rare.

Antibiotics versus placebo for acute bacterial conjunctivitis

Acute bacterial conjunctivitis is an infective condition in which one or both eyes become red and inflamed. The condition is not normally serious and in most cases resolves spontaneously. People with acute conjunctivitis are often given antibiotics, usually as eye drops or ointment, to speed recovery. The benefits of antibiotics to the sufferer of conjunctivitis have been questioned. We found 11 randomised controlled trial (RCTs) from different parts of the world which recruited a total of 3673 participants overall. We judged two of the trials to be of high quality, and we graded the remainder as poor quality. This updated review provides clearer evidence that use of antibiotic eye drops can speed up the resolution of symptoms and infection, and that they are unlikely to be associated with any serious side effects.

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More about Conjunctivitis

Photo of a young adult

Also called: Pink eye

Other terms to know:
Conjunctiva, Sclera (White of the Eye)

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