Conjuctivitis: Protecting self, preventing spread

Conjuctivitis locally called ‘Apollo’ is currently on the rise, but how can one be protected from contacting this eye disease or its spread prevented? Experts answer these questions and proffer additional information on the disease in this report by VERA ONANA.

Little Samuel came home from school scratching his eyes. They seemed slightly swollen, but his mother felt the toddler was simply sleepy. The next day, his eyes were stuck-shut and after a disheveled mother got them open, they had a deep hue of pink. The pediatrician diagnosed little Samuel with conjunctivitis, locally called ‘Apollo’.

Recently, the outbreak of conjunctivitis has been on the rise as a good number of children were observed to be brought into the hospital for treatment, said a medical expert, Dr Misbau Lawal in Ilorin, Kwara State, while speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). Adults also are not exempted from the infection.

Conjunctivitis, according to medical experts, is an inflammation or swelling of the conjunctiva, the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye.

Often called “pink eye,” and locally called “Apollo”, conjunctivitis is a common eye disease, especially in children. It may affect one or both eyes. Some forms of conjunctivitis are highly contagious and can easily spread in schools and at home. While conjunctivitis is usually a minor eye infection, sometimes it can develop into a more serious problem.

According to Dr Lawal, the conjunctiva, which produces mucous to coat and lubricate the surface of the eye, contains fine blood vessels that can be seen on close inspection. He explained that conjunctivitis was a common eye problem that affected people of all age groups and one of the most common eye infections in children.

A viral or bacterial infection can cause conjunctivitis. It can also develop due to an allergic reaction to air irritants such as pollen and smoke, chlorine in swimming pools, ingredients in cosmetics, or other products that contact the eyes, such as contact lenses, experts say.

According to Dr Lawal, symptoms of conjunctivitis include pinkness or redness in the eye red, inflamed inner eyelids, blurred vision, sandy or scratchy feeling in the eye, pus, mucous, watery discharge from the eye, itching or burning sensation in one or both eyes, excessive tearing or increased sensitivity to light.

Dr Lawal therefore advised Nigerians to imbibe the habit of regular hand washing to avoid contracting the infection of the eye that is currently spreading. Also, for those that already have the eye infection, the spread can be prevented by increased personal hygiene, experts say. “Once an infection has been diagnosed, do not touch your eyes with your hands.”

Infected persons are also advised to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, change their towels and beddings frequently and avoid sharing them with others. Ladies who are infected are advised to discard eye cosmetics, particularly mascara and those who are not are advised not to use anyone else’s eye cosmetics or personal eye-care items.

“You can soothe the discomfort of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis by applying warm compresses to your affected eye or eyes. To make a compress, soak a clean cloth in warm water and wring it out before applying it gently to your closed eyelids,” an eye expert said.

Consultant opthamologist at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Dr Adeola Onakoya has however warned that those suffering from conjunctivitis should desist from arbitrary use of concoctions to treat the infection. She decried the use of substances like battery water, urine and other unapproved solutions in the treatment of the infection. She explained that such method of treatment would only worsen the infection and cause a secondary infection.

Dr Onakoya said that the first aid treatment for viral conjunctivitis was cleaning the affected eye with water and salt solution and subsequently, seeing an ophthalmologist to prescribe antibiotics to prevent secondary infection.

The ophthalmologist attributed the infection to the dry harmattan haze, which affects the eyes causing itching and redness, with a lot of discomfort.

She said that the symptoms of viral conjunctivitis were itching and redness of the eye and watery discharge.

Onakoya explained that the infection was spreading fast because it was being passed round by close contact, including the mere infected person.

“The infection is caused by a virus called adenovirus, which is highly contagious without affecting the vision.”

“An infected persons with the virus, keeps wiping the eyes due to its watery state. It does not affect the vision but causes discomfort.

“The tears from the eyes are the source of infection,” Onakoya said. She advised parents of pupils infected with viral conjunctivitis to keep them away from school to prevent its spread and immediately visit an ophthalmologist for treatment.

Treatment options depend on the exact type of conjunctivitis a person has, experts say. But, because it may be difficult to tell which kind of conjunctivitis a person has without medical consultation, it’s wise to visit a doctor if eyes are red and irritated.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually treated with prescription antibiotic drops or ointment. Eye drops are used up to four times a day which don’t hurt, although may cause a brief stinging sensation.

“Even though your eyes should feel and look better after a couple of days, it’s important to use the drops for as long as the doctor has prescribed. The infection may come back if you stop too soon,” ophthalmologists say.

However, antibiotic drops will not work if conjunctivitis is viral. Instead, the body’s immune system will fight off the virus. In allergic conjunctivitis, a doctor may prescribe anti-allergy medication in pill or eye drop form.