They haven’t been crying, cutting onions or smoking weed — but you will want to stay clear once you know what’s actually going on. The current outbreak of bacterial eye infections is causing fiery red eyes and embarrassing encounters throughout campus. The bacteria that cause the eye infection, conjunctivitis, can be frustratingly hardy and can live for at least 24 hours on surfaces such as human skin, stair rails, table tops or pillows. The bacterial infection is characterised by a creamy exudate that sticks to the eyelashes. A common source of infection is cosmetics, particularly mascara and eyeliner. The bacteria cling happily to the mascara wand. So don’t share these commodities (boys, get your own!).
Viral eye infections typically have no exudate, but tend to look redder, be slightly painful, and may feel gritty. There is no recommended eye drop for this sort of infection, although pain relief such as ibuprofen and paracetamol may help significantly if you are attempting to study. Allergic conjunctivitis is usually characterised by itchiness as well as redness, and can be treated with an oral antihistamine tablet or antihistamine eye-drops. Identifying the source of the allergy can be problematic; besides the typical causes like grass, pollen or autumn leaves, another common culprit is perfume or deodorant.
You can get an antibiotic eye drop or ointment from a pharmacy after a consultation with a pharmacist. The ointment can be applied at night (but can slightly blur your vision). You must not wear contact lenses while treating the infection with drops or ointment.
Other infections you can attempt to cover up, but conjunctivitis often transforms your eyes into two red beacons warning everyone to take several steps away from you. But it is normal and can be quickly treated — put on some dark shades and head to the appropriate place to get it sorted.