Mate pīkaru Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis (also called pink eye or sticky eye) is an inflammation of the outer layer of your eye, which is called the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin, clear tissue that covers the white of your eye (called the sclera) and the inside of your eyelid.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis

Symptoms of conjunctivitis vary. You may have one or more of the following:

  • redness in the white of your eye or inner eyelid
  • an itchy, gritty eye, burning or mild soreness — it can feel like something is in your eye, although your eye is not usually painful
  • increased sensitivity to light
  • swollen eyelids — in severe cases, the conjunctiva under your eyelids may swell and look lumpy.

Discharge or more fluid from your eye is also common. It is often yellow or green if you have an infection, but it can be clear or white. Allergies often cause watery eyes.

Conjunctivitis can affect one eye or both of your eyes.

Your vision is not usually affected. Your vision might be slightly blurred because of discharge at the front of your eye. But this clears when you blink. If your vision is blurred and does not clear when you blink, get your eyes checked urgently to find out what the cause is.

Types of conjunctivitis

There are several types of conjunctivitis.

Allergic conjunctivitis

This is caused by allergies and can be seasonal, occurring at certain times of the year (when due to pollen or grasses) or ongoing (when caused by allergens such as dust mite or pets). Allergic conjunctivitis is not infectious or contagious.

Viral conjunctivitis

This is often caused by the same virus that causes the common cold. The herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores is another possible cause. Viral conjunctivitis usually begins in one eye, then affects the other eye within 24 to 48 hours. It tends to cause a thin watery or white mucous discharge and may be accompanied by symptoms of a cold.

Bacterial conjunctivitis

This is caused by a bacterial infection and is common in pēpi (babies) and tamariki (children). Typical symptoms include a sticky yellow or green discharge, most noticeable on waking up.

Other types

Inflammation of the conjunctiva can also be caused by direct contact with irritant chemicals such as cosmetics, chlorine from swimming pools or preservatives (even some in eye drops). People who wear contact lenses can get eye irritation due to the lens or contact lens solutions, and are more likely to get eye infections.

Diagnosing conjunctivitis

If the outer layer of your eye (your conjunctiva) is inflamed, the small blood vessels inside it widen, making your eye look red or pink. But other things can also cause red or pink eyes. You can often diagnose conjunctivitis yourself from the symptoms you have.

See your healthcare provider or optometrist if:

  • you are not sure what is causing yours
  • light starts to hurt your eyes (photophobia)
  • you get spots or blisters on the skin next to your eye
  • the conjunctivitis affects or reduces your vision
  • your newborn pēpi (baby) develops conjunctivitis
  • your eye is painful rather than just mildly sore
  • your eye becomes very red, especially if only one of your eyes is affected
  • your eye does not improve after 3 to 4 days.

Treating conjunctivitis

The treatment will depend on what is causing your conjunctivitis and how severe it is.

Sometimes no treatment is needed as the eye will get better by itself.

Allergic conjunctivitis

This type of conjunctivitis gets better when you avoid the things that cause the allergy. Anti-allergy eye drops or antihistamine tablets can reduce the allergic response and relieve your symptoms. Antibiotic eye drops do not help allergic conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis

There is no effective treatment for common viral conjunctivitis. In most cases, it gets better on its own over a few days.

  • Viral conjunctivitis is contagious, so take care to wash your hands, use separate towels and avoid touching your face.
  • You can clean away secretions from eyelids and lashes.
  • You can use artificial tears eye drops for relief from any discomfort.

Bacterial conjunctivitis

Most cases of bacterial conjunctivitis are mild and usually get better on their own within a few days.

  • You can clean away secretions from eyelids and lashes.
  • You can use artificial tears eye drops for relief from any discomfort.
  • Antibiotic eye drops aren't usually necessary for a mild infection.
  • In some cases where the infection is more severe or persistent, you might need antibiotic eye drops or eye ointment.

Self care for infectious conjunctivitis

Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are forms of infectious conjunctivitis, which means they can spread from one eye to another and from one person to another. You can care for yourself by carefully washing your eyes.

  • Before touching your eyes, wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  • Dry your hands with a clean (or disposable) towel.
  • Clean away any pus, crust or discharge with a disposable cotton swab soaked in water.
  • Wipe your eye once, from the end nearest your nose to the outside, then throw the swab away. Continue until your eye is clean.
  • Wash and dry your hands again.

It is best to use surgical swabs from your pharmacist or disposable eye make-up removal pads, rather than cotton wool balls. This is because they can unravel, leaving cotton in your eye.

Contact lens users

  • Do not wear lenses while you have an infection and for 48 hours after it has gone.
  • Discard any disposable lenses and cases.
  • If you are using non-disposable lenses, clean your lenses and containers completely before reusing.

Reducing the spread of infectious conjunctivitis

Good hygiene can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis.

  • Try not to rub or touch your eye – you can spread the infection to your other eye or to someone else.
  • If you do touch your eye, wash your hands well afterwards.
  • Use your own facecloth, towels, pillowcases and bed linen and change these regularly.
It is best to keep young tamariki with infectious conjunctivitis home from daycare or school if the eye is sticky or weeping, because the discharge is infectious.

Related websites


Information about conjunctivitis in tamariki, what it is and how to care for it.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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