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Conjunctivitis is the term used by eye doctors (ophthalmologists and optometrists) to describe inflammation of the conjunctiva. In ordinary terms, conjunctivitis is simply the most common cause of red or “pink” eye.

Many different sources of eye irritation can cause conjunctivitis. The most common are infections, allergies, and environmental irritants. Viruses are also common causes of conjunctivitis. Some viruses produce the familiar red eyes, sore throat, and runny nose of a common cold. Others may infect only one eye. Viral conjunctivitis usually produces a watery discharge and lasts from one to two weeks.

Infectious conjunctivitis, whether bacterial or viral, can be quite contagious, so contact with patient’s tears through used handkerchiefs and towels should be avoided. Hand washing after contact with the patient helps to prevent spread of the infection.

Allergies tend to cause a type of conjunctivitis, which produces a discharge. Some kinds of allergies, like hay fever, make the eyes very itchy, while others may merely produce a chronic redness. Finally, environmental irritants such as smoke or fumes may cause conjunctivitis. Any type of conjunctivitis is aggravated by dryness of the eyes.

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