Viral conjunctivitis or red eye
This is the time of year in summer when there are outbreaks of viral conjunctivitis more commonly known as red eye. It is important to identify this and control it in order to prevent the spread of the virus amongst children and older people. It most often spreads in schools and families. When our defences are down, we can easily catch viruses. Often viral conjunctivitis occurs after a particularly heavy summer cold. I always ask patients who have conjunctivitis whether they have had a flu-like cold in the previous three weeks and very often they have.
Viral conjunctivitis is an infection of the covering of the surface of the eye and the inner lining of the eyelids. Viral conjunctivitis is very contagious, and it can be easily be spread from person to person, but it can be effectively managed at home. The virus germs are passed on to other people in your family and friends via hand to hand contact and droplet spread. Therefore personal hygiene is very critical. Droplet spread can occur with coughing and sneezing.
How to manage viral conjunctivitis
Symptoms of the red eye include redness and swelling of the white of the eye or the inside of the lid, watering and excess tears, you can have increased sensitivity to light, there can be some watery discharge or even pus, and the eyelids can be stuck together particularly in the mornings. If you have a red eye with watery discharge, you should scrupulously keep the eyelids clean by cleaning them morning and evening with a Blephasol solution and twice during the day with Blephaclean wipes in order to remove the contagious dried tears and muck from the eyelids and eyelashes.
You should also practice exquisite personal hygiene avoiding contact with your hands to other people and should put in lubricating drops for comfort in your eyes and seek an ophthalmic opinion if you are concerned about the symptoms.
Viral conjunctivitis can be contagious for between two to three weeks, and if children are affected by this, they should not be attending school. Fortunately, it is the summer holidays now, so that is not going to arise.
In the Caribbean there is an outbreak of viral conjunctivitis red eye and the Pan American Health Organisation has confirmed outbreaks in the Bahamas, Guadalupe, Martinique and the Dominican Republic. In London, I have seen more cases recently consistent with a worldwide endemic viral spread. For people travelling to the Caribbean during the summer, you should be aware of the increased risk of red eye.
Although there is no treatment, the above-mentioned lubricant drops and eyelid hygiene help. If symptoms are severe we can add steroid antibiotic drops to reduce the symptoms, though they do not reduce significantly the duration of conjunctivitis, they can just make it a less unpleasant experience.