Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the membrane (the conjunctiva) that covers the inside of the eyelid and the white of the eye. It is annoying, but rarely serious.
Its causes include:
- bacterial or viral infections — commonly called pink eye
- allergies to substances such as grass pollen, house dust, mold or cosmetics
- environmental irritants, such as smoke and fumes
- in newborns (though rarely), infection from the lining of the mother’s birth canal; a serious condition that must be treated at once, as it can cause blindness
When bacteria or a virus causes conjunctivitis, it is highly contagious and easily spread through direct contact or by touching contaminated towels, handkerchiefs or washcloths. A doctor can prescribe antibiotic eyedrops or ointment to speed recovery.
Allergic conjunctivitis can be chronic or may occur during allergy season, but it is not contagious.