This helps if your eye is inflamed

Did someone just mess with pepper spray? Her eyes are red, burning, itchy and watery like crazy. If you’re not allergic to pollen or anything else, these are clear signs of conjunctivitis.

Especially swimmers, contact lens wearers or people who have a lot to do with children can sing a song about this eye disease. An ophthalmologist will explain how conjunctivitis develops and what you need to be aware of if your eyes suddenly burn and hurt.

What causes conjunctivitis?

The conjunctiva, also tunic conjunctiva is the mucous membrane that sits on the inside of the eyelid and connects it to the eyeball. It allows the eyelid to move on the eye and distribute tear fluid on it.

If foreign bodies enter the mucous membrane, the body wants to fight them by increasing the blood supply to the area and sending antibodies there – possible consequence: the conjunctiva becomes inflamed.

“Triggers for conjunctivitis can be very different,” explains ophthalmologist Dr. Butenberg of the Day Clinic Munich. “Most often, bacteria or viruses nestle in the mucous membrane. But fungi, foreign bodies such as dust particles or an allergic reaction can also lead to the inflammatory reaction”. One speaks then also of a Conjunctivitis .

In case of conjunctivitis you should avoid eye make-up. © Iuliia Diakova / You should never do this with contact lenses

As a rule, a healthy immune system can cope with germs well on its own and no nasty inflammation develops in the first place. However, stress, lack of sleep or any other infection does put a strain on the immune system, and it can then fight the pathogens more difficult.

Even if the eye becomes too dry, the germs have an easier time of it because the tear fluid no longer removes them properly. For example, if you blink too seldom when working at a computer screen, if there is a draught in the room or if the room is heated or the body is undergoing a hormonal change, the eye is not moistened enough and the germs can spread. If you are prone to dry eyes, it is best to ask an expert what you can do to prevent conjunctivitis in the first place.

How can I recognize the infection in the eye?

The inflammation becomes noticeable after an incubation period of about 2 days after you have become infected. “The symptoms are similar for all triggers: The eye reddens, burns or itches and water,” says ophthalmologist Butenberg.

In the case of a bacterial inflammation, the eye often becomes additionally clogged in the morning due to the pus that develops. With a viral infection, on the other hand, one often becomes very sensitive to bright light. If your eyes are red and burning after a long day at the desk, you should watch out for this and take care of your eyes first

If you have spent the evening without bright lights, screens and a room without draughts, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible.

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Conjunctivitis is highly contagious. Frequent hand washing protects! © Jub Job / Shutterstock.ocm

Is conjunctivitis contagious?

Oh yes, if conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria or viruses, it is extremely contagious! The nasty thing is that the pathogens lurk almost everywhere, especially during the cold season. “The germs that lead to a cold or a gastrointestinal infection can also attack the mucous membranes in the eye,” says the ophthalmologist.

If you touch a doorknob, subway seat or other hand where, for example, streptococcus bacteria, herpes or adenoviruses are sitting, and then touch your face, the pathogens have a clear path. If someone close to you has conjunctivitis, you should wash your hands regularly and keep your fingers away from your face, if possible, and use your own towel.

How is conjunctivitis treated?

It’s like this and it’s like that. Depending on the trigger, conjunctivitis must be treated differently, so you should take it to a specialist practice after 2 days at the latest. “Only an expert can determine the exact cause and treat it accordingly,” says Butenberg.

With bacteria everything is not so bad, a healthy immune system can usually handle them on its own, it just takes a little longer. However, an ophthalmologist can prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments so that the inflammation is gone after only 5 or 6 days. However, it is important that you take the antibiotic for as long as it is prescribed and for at least 2 days longer than the symptoms last. If you do not do this, individual bacteria can survive and then spread again more easily.

Always drip antibiotic eye drops for as long as prescribed, otherwise pathogens will multiply again. © Story Time Studio /

Viruses are more dangerous because the infection can also spread to the cornea, leaving scars. “These scars are like falling rocks or scratches on the windscreen, they impair vision and you will be blinded more quickly,” explains the ophthalmologist. To prevent this from happening, you should definitely have the conjunctivitis examined by a doctor.

A viral infection also takes longer to heal, about 2 to 3 weeks. In any case, you should take care of your eyes during this time. If there is an allergy behind it, you can try to find and avoid the exact trigger in a dermatological or allergological practice. An antiallergic will then help against the symptoms.

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What do I have to consider in case of conjunctivitis?

If the eye itches and burns, you should above all leave it alone. This means no make-up, no contact lenses and touching as little as possible, even if it itches. “Sport is fine, but chlorinated water when swimming or the heat in a sauna can put additional strain on the eye,” warns the doctor.

Make-up around the eyes and contact lenses are only OK again when your eyes are free of symptoms for 2 days. You can also take care to create a pleasant indoor climate so that the air does not irritate your eyes even further. You should avoid draughts, smoke, heating air or lots of dust. Instead, you can create a pleasant humidity, for example with a bowl of water on the windowsill or houseplants, and ensure a mild room temperature.

To protect air filters against fine dust Change your eye make-up utensils frequently to prevent conjunctivitis. © Pavel Ryabushkin /

How do I prevent conjunctivitis?

To prevent inflammation from occurring in the first place, you can also make it difficult for the pathogens to spread with thorough hygiene and a healthy immune system. If you wear contact lenses, you should never leave them in overnight, always disinfect them properly and dispose of them after the recommended wearing period.

You should change your make-up regularly so that not too many germs can multiply in the old mascara or concealer. You should always wash your hands thoroughly and fiddle around with them on your face as little as possible (this also helps against pimples!).

With prophylactic eye drops, however, the ophthalmologist advises caution. “If the eye is repeatedly moistened from outside, the tear gland gets used to it and produces too little fluid itself,” he explains. If you have dry eyes after a long day, that’s fine now and then, but it should remain the exception.

Conjunctivitis can be easily avoided. Especially during the cold season or when someone around you has red eyes, you should pay special attention to hygiene. However, if it does happen to you, you should seek professional treatment quickly so that you do not suffer permanent visual impairment.