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Conjunctivitis is that condition where eyes are itchy, sore and sometimes red and swollen as well. It is inflammation of the membrane that lines the eyelid, and  affects men and women, boys and girls of all ages. It is classified according to its cause or by the extent of the inflamed area.

There are a number of forms of conjunctivitis. Symptoms that are generally common to all forms include redness, irritation and watering of the eyes. Other symptoms include pain, visual disturbance, extreme sensitivity to light, discharge and itchiness.

Acute Allergic Conjunctivitis is itchy and often causes the eyelid to swell. This can be a particularly frustrating form of conjunctivitis, especially for children, as it typically lacks redness or discharge which are the obvious markers parents and carers tend to look for.

Viral Conjunctivitis is highly contagious and more common in adults than in children. It is often associated with an infection of the upper respiratory tract, a common cold or a sore throat, and comes with watery discharge and is usually itchy. The infection usually begins with one eye and is easily spread to the other eye.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis is the most common form of infectious conjunctivitis. The bacteria causes grittiness or irritation along with a stringy grey or yellowish mucus discharge that may cause the eye lids to stick together, particularly after sleeping. However, this form of conjunctivitis, depending on the bacteria involved, can occur without much redness. The gritty feeling can also be so localised that it feels as though there is something in the eye. As with viral conjunctivitis, this form can begin in one eye and spread to the other.

Irritant or Toxic Conjunctivitis may cause severe pain and is always irritating. Discharge and itch are usually absent. This form of conjunctivitis is generally caused by substances that are irritating to the eye such as fumes, smoke, contact lens solutions, chlorine from swimming pools, chemicals, makeup or other foreign substances that may enter the eye.

Allergic and irritant conjunctivitis can be resolved somewhat by identifying the substance that is causing the allergy or irritation and avoiding it. Bacterial conjunctivitis is generally considered a disease of poor hygiene and living conditions. Though incidence has greatly reduced with modern improvements in living conditions, it remains a common problem. Viral conjunctivitis as it is a result of a depressed immune system, so we need to support and strengthen the immune system, reduce the inflammation and relieve the symptoms.

For relief of conjunctivitis symptoms, apply a hot compress made with a herbal tea such as calendula, chamomile, fennel, raspberry leaf or eyebright. Many of the microorganisms that cause conjunctivitis can not tolerate heat. A herbal eye bath comprised of any of these will assist in reducing inflammation and may also provide relief from redness, grittiness and irritation as well as reducing the itching and watery discharge. Stay away from chamomile if you’re allergic to daisies.

If eyelids are swollen, peel and grate a fresh potato, wrap it in gauze and place it over the eyes. This acts as an astringent and has a healing effect. A cold compress is also helpful in reducing swelling.

As always, we need to give attention to our nutrition in order to effectively deal with the compromised immune system that has lead to viral conjunctivitis.

Increased intake of green leafy vegetables (such as collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach and turnip greens), legumes, yellow vegetables  and flavanoid rich berries (such as blueberries, blackberries and cherries) and foods rich in vitamins E & C, such as raw fruit and vegetables will assist in the strengthening of the immune system. Supplementation of zinc, vitamins C, D, E & A as well as a B vitamin complex are also advisable.

Avoid or reduce your intake of sugar, salt, saturated fats, dairy, wheat, processed foods, additives, preservatives and colourings. If conjunctivitis is a regular part of your life, implement these changes and keep a journal for a few weeks so you can keep a good track of what’s helping and what may be causing it.

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