Fact-check: 5 common myths about conjunctivitis

Fact-check: 5 common myths about conjunctivitis

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Dr Vijitha S Vempuluru, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Ophthalmology, AIIMS Bibinagar, Telangana, India, helps set the record straight.

India is currently witnessing the outbreak of a highly contagious eye infection called conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. While government health agencies and medical professionals are actively engaged in raising awareness about the condition, there are several misconceptions that are hampering prevention efforts and timely treatment.

First Check reached out to Dr Vijitha S Vempuluru, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Ophthalmology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Bibinagar, Telangana, India, to help debunk the most common myths about conjunctivitis.

Myth 1: If you look at an infected person’s eye, you will get the pink eye. 

Fact: Not all pink eye infections are contagious. Besides, the infection is not air-borne, and spreads through physical contact or fomites such as towels, glasses, etc. “So, unless you’re standing close enough to be physically touching the person, you are unlikely to contract the infection,” explains Dr Vijitha.

Myth 2: Conjunctivitis is a children’s disease.

Fact: “Conjunctivitis can affect individuals of any age from newborns to elderly, and the causative agent may differ,” asserts the expert. However, children are more likely to be infected due to greater hand-to-eye contact and proximity in places like schools and daycares.

Myth 3: Conjunctivitis is not contagious. 

Fact: Conjunctivitis of infectious etiology is contagious, while other forms such as allergic conjunctivitis may not spread from one person to another by contact. “Differentiating between these types warrants assessment by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist), who can advise on appropriate treatment measures,” says Dr Vijitha.

Myth 4: Home remedies can cure pink eye.

Fact: While home remedies such as cold compresses can alleviate discomfort, it cannot remedy the condition. Dr Vijitha recommends definitive treatment as advised by an ophthalmologist, depending on the underlying cause. “Seeking a doctor’s opinion is especially crucial in severe eye disease,” she notes.

Myth 5: Babies cannot be born with conjunctivitis.

Fact: Neonatal conjunctivitis, also known as ophthalmia neonatorum, is an eye infection affecting newborns at the time of, or immediately after, birth. “Often contracted during birth, it stems from bacterial, viral, or chlamydial infections. Babies born with such infections also run the risk of developing systemic infection,” informs Dr Vijitha.

To sum it up, there are many causes for conjunctivitis. Outbreaks are usually caused by infectious agents. It is important to consult a doctor immediately if the redness in the eye worsens, eye pain ensues, or vision becomes blurry.

Simple but important measures including maintaining hand hygiene, avoiding direct contact with infected individuals or their items can help prevent the spread of the infection.