Eye Flu (Conjunctivitis): Types, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

By Dr. Nikhil S. Sardar in Ophthalmology

Aug 08 , 2023 | 6 min read



Conjunctivitis, commonly called 'pink eye' or 'eye flu,' is an ailment that has periodically re-emerged in various parts of the world, sparking both concern and a myriad of misconceptions. With Mumbai currently experiencing a surge in cases, especially among children, it's become imperative to distinguish fact from fiction.

Conjunctivitis is not just a singular disease but a symptom of several underlying causes, ranging from viral to bacterial infections, allergies, or exposure to irritants. In light of this ongoing wave, understanding its nuances, risk populations, preventive measures, and debunking prevalent myths is crucial.

What is Eye Flu (Conjunctivitis)?

Conjunctivitis is a condition characterised by the inflammation of the conjunctiva, a thin mucus membrane. The lining protects us from foreign objects, lubricates the eyes and serves as a cover for the sclera. Eye flu can be caused by bacteria and viruses, but it can also be triggered by allergies, chemicals and foreign particles. It is contagious and can be spread by direct and indirect eye secretions.

Types of Eye Flu (Conjunctivitis)

There are different types of conjunctivitis. Some of them are as follows:

  1. Bacterial Conjunctivitis- It is a contagious bacterial infection characterised by a thick discharge that may be yellow or greenish in colour. 

  2. Viral Conjunctivitis- Viral conjunctivitis is a type of infection that is not only caused by viruses but is also associated with other symptoms such as respiratory infections or colds. A distinct feature of viral eye flu is clear and watery discharge.

  3. Allergic Conjunctivitis- Allergic eye flu can be caused by any irritant present in the environment, such as pet hair, dust, pollen or certain medications. It is not an infection but does cause inflammation of the conjunctiva. It can be of two types as well- seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, which may affect individuals during certain seasons and perennial conjunctivitis, which may affect individuals all year round.

  4. Chemical Conjunctivitis, or Irritant Conjunctivitis- It can occur due to contact with chemical or foreign irritants such as contact lenses, chlorine, smoke or other chemicals. It usually resolves when the irritant has been eliminated.

Symptoms of Eye Flu

Some common symptoms of eye flu include:

  • Redness in the whites of the eyes and inner eyelids

  • Itchiness

  • Discharge- it can be watery and clear or yellowish-green, thick discharge

  • Swelling

  • Sensitivity to light, also known as photophobia

  • A sensation that something is stuck in the eye

  • Excessive watering or tearing

  • Crusting of eye secretions may cause the lids or lashes to stick together

Risk Populations for Conjunctivitis

When it comes to conjunctivitis, certain demographics are more susceptible to this eye condition. The risk populations include:

  • Children: Kids, especially those attending school or daycare, are at a heightened risk due to their proximity to others and their less-developed immune systems. The current wave in Mumbai has notably impacted children, underscoring the importance of taking preventive measures in educational institutions. 

  • Elderly individuals: Older adults often have weaker immune systems, making them more susceptible to infections. Moreover, age-related diseases can further compromise their eye health, elevating the risk of complications from conjunctivitis. 

  • People with compromised immune systems: Those with conditions that suppress the immune system, such as HIV or those undergoing chemotherapy, are at a higher risk. Their body's decreased ability to ward off infections makes them a vulnerable group.

  • Contact lens wearers: Individuals who wear contact lenses, especially extended-wear lenses, can be at greater risk, especially if they don't follow proper lens hygiene.

Differentiating Eye Flu from Other Eye Infections 

In the earlier stages of infection, several conditions can mimic eye flu. To differentiate between them, below listed are a few common conditions that mimic eye flu:

  1. Dry Eyes- Dry eyes can cause irritation, redness and can feel like something is stuck in the eye, and these are all symptoms common to conjunctivitis, which may cause a misdiagnosis.

  2. Keratitis- Keratitis is the inflammation of the cornea. Its symptoms include redness, discharge, pain, blurry vision, and photophobia (light sensitivity), which are also similar to eye flu.

  3. Iritis- Iritis is the inflammation of the iris and can cause irritation, pain, and light sensitivity. It needs medical attention since prolonged iritis can cause severe vision issues.

  4. Blepharitis- Blepharitis is a condition that leads to the inflammation of the eyelid. It can occur when the oil glands near our lashes get clogged and infected. It is usually accompanied by redness, irritation, and swelling.

  5. Corneal Abrasion- In its early stages, an injured or damaged cornea can present with redness and irritation, thus mimicking conjunctivitis.

Treatment Options for EYE Flu (Conjunctivitis):

Depending on the type of infection, treatment will vary. Some common treatment options include:

  1. For bacterial conjunctivitis- The doctor may prescribe antibiotics. It is necessary to complete the full cycle of medication, or usually, there is a chance of recurrence. Eye drops and ointments may be prescribed.

  2. For viral conjunctivitis- Viral conjunctivitis usually subsides on its own, and medications may not be necessary. Warm compressions and artificial tears can reduce discomfort.

  3. Allergic conjunctivitis and Irritant conjunctivitis- Elimination of the allergen or irritant usually helps reduce discomfort. Oral antihistamine medication, drops and artificial tears may be prescribed.

Tips to Prevent Conjunctivitis:

Since conjunctivitis is highly contagious, here are some tips to help with eye flu:

  1. Avoid touching your eyes as much as possible.

  2. Maintain proper hygiene by washing hands regularly and using a sanitiser when water and soap are not available.

  3. Regular warm compressions can help alleviate pain and help lubricate the eyes. 

  4. Finish your full course of medications if you are experiencing bacterial conjunctivitis.

  5. Avoid wearing and sharing eye makeup.

  6. Do not share items like pillows and other personal items like towels. 

  7. Use tissues when sneezing and coughing to reduce the spread of eye secretions.

  8. If you use contact lenses, ensure appropriate disinfection and sanitation to mitigate the infection.

  9. If you have pink eye already, avoid wearing the same contact lenses. Consider disposing of them since repeated use can cause reinfection and worsen the condition.

  10. Wash your pillowcases as often as possible.

  11. Avoid activities that may cause eye strain, like reading or using electronic devices.

When Do I Seek Medical Attention?

You should seek medical attention if:

  1. The symptoms worsen

  2. There are changes to your vision

  3. You have other underlying health conditions, such as a weak immune system. 

Debunking Myths About Conjunctivitis

In the face of any health crisis, misinformation can spread as quickly as the disease itself. Let's debunk some common myths related to conjunctivitis:

Myth: Only those with poor hygiene get conjunctivitis.

Fact: While maintaining good hygiene can prevent many cases, conjunctivitis can affect anyone, irrespective of their cleanliness. Factors like allergies or viral infections don't discriminate based on personal hygiene.

Myth: Conjunctivitis always means there's a bacterial infection.

Fact: Conjunctivitis can be caused by viruses, allergies, and even certain chemicals. Not every pink eye case is due to a bacterial infection.

Myth: Conjunctivitis is a minor condition and doesn't require medical attention.

Fact: While many cases of conjunctivitis might resolve on their own, some can lead to serious complications if not treated. It's essential to consult a doctor, especially if the symptoms are severe or persistent.

Myth: Using antibiotic eye drops will immediately cure conjunctivitis.

Fact: Antibiotics are effective against bacterial conjunctivitis but won't help in cases caused by viruses, allergies, or chemicals. Overuse of antibiotics can also contribute to resistance.


Conjunctivitis, commonly known as the "eye flu", is a rampant yet highly contagious ailment. By understanding the risk populations and dispelling myths, we can take a proactive step towards better managing and preventing conjunctivitis. While many cases heal independently, adopting vigilant self-care routines, emphasising hand cleanliness, and adopting preventive actions are instrumental in controlling the condition and curtailing its transmission. Stay informed, stay cautious, and ensure the well-being of your eyesight amidst this prevalent health concern.

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