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Conjunctivitis is irritating but rarely causes serious complications. However, it can be highly contagious and thus should be diagnosed promptly.

It's important to get treatment for the bacterial form of conjunctivitis, which can in some cases invade the cornea and damage your eyesight. You may miss a few days of school or work if you have infectious conjunctivitis.

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Warm and cold compresses. Placing a warm washcloth on the eye may make an eye with bacterial conjunctivitis feel better. A cool washcloth will calm inflammation and relieve itching and redness.

Over-the-counter medicines. The eye drops known as "artificial tears" can help relieve irritation by lubricating the eye. (But if only one eye is infected; don't use the same bottle of drops in the uninfected eye.) Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen, taken as pills, help with pain and swelling. For allergic conjunctivitis, you may find that decongestant eye drops such as Naphcon or Opcon improve your symptoms.

Things to avoid

Touching the eyes. Keep your hands away from your eyes, and wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water. For bacterial conjunctivitis, touching your eye could make it easier to pass the bacteria to other people, or to move them from one eye to the other. In the case of allergic conjunctivitis, rubbing the eye will nudge your cells to release more histamine, making the itching worse. Also, your hands might have allergens on them.

Eye makeup. Do not wear eye makeup if you have conjunctivitis. It could get into the eye and make things worse.

Sharing towels. Conjunctivitis can be spread by a washcloth and towels, so don't share them with other people (and do wash them frequently).

Allergens. An allergy skin test can identify substances such as animal dander and dust mites that might be causing your conjunctivitis. The following recommendations can help you avoid some common allergens:

  • Keep the windows closed and use air conditioning if you are allergic to pollen; don't turn on fans, which can stir up dust.
  • Filter the air, and use a high-efficiency particulate air filter if you have a forced-air furnace. Clean air filters frequently.
  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to smoke, air pollution, bug spray, and vapors from fresh paint and tar.
  • Change your pillowcase and sheets frequently.

Last reviewed on 06/23/2008

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