Published on Aug 19, 2003 07:53 PM IST

Conjunctivitis is an infection of the thin transparent tissue covering the outer part of the eye.

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Conjunctivitis is an infection of the conjunctiva (the thin transparent tissue covering the outer part of the eye). This infection is also known as “ Madras Eye”.

Cause and Routes of Spread

The common Madras Eye is a viral infection. This is caused by a group of virus called Adenovirus. This virus group also causes common cold. So this disease resembles common cold in many ways.

This infection will occur in epidemics. The virus will be present in tear secretion. The patient’s hand will be contaminated while wiping the watering eye. From the unwashed hand of the patient, the virus can spread on to others’ hands, other common surfaces like furniture, bed sheets, towels etc. This virus can be alive in these places even up to a few weeks. Anybody who is in contact with these items will get infected.

However, this infection cannot spread by air. That is, you cannot get conjunctivitis just by looking into the infected person’s eyes from a distance

Signs and symptoms

This disease has three stages.

The acute symptoms will last for at least three weeks. In the first week, the virus multiplies in the conjunctival cells. At this stage, the eye will become reddish and lids swell. There will be continuous watering, sensation of some foreign material within the eye and sticky discharge on the lids while waking up. Sometimes the lid swelling will be so severe that one cannot open the lids at all.

This will gradually reduce by the second week. In the second week, Cornea, which is seen as the black part of the eye, will be affected. The virus affects the outer corneal cells. So, minute grayish spots will appear in this layer. The irritation may increase and the patient will find it difficult to see in bright light.

By the third week, the virus replication will come down spontaneously, so the actual infective phase will be over. But the remaining dead virus particles deposited in the corneal tissue will incite an immune reaction resulting in coin like lesions on the cornea.

This is the most problematic stage. Though it is good that our body is fighting against the virus, the resulting lesions will cause disturbing symptoms. If the opacities are in the center of the cornea and many in number, they will cause glare, which is severe while looking at lights in the night. One cannot see the headlights of the oncoming vehicles, making night driving difficult.

Visual acuity itself will go down in some cases. Some people will feel recurrent irritations. Fortunately this stage is a self-limited one. That is, whether you treat it or not, it will clear completely after some time. But the time it will take may vary from person to person.


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