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What Is the Conjunctiva?

Conjunctiva lubricates the eyes and is a barrier against infectious microbes. It is a thin and transparent mucous membrane over the white part of the eyes and inside the eyelids. There are three kinds of conjunctiva: the bulbar or ocular conjunctiva lines the sclera over the white of the eye; the palpebral or tarsal conjunctiva lines the inside of the eyelid; the fornix conjunctiva is between the inner eyelid and sclera.

Mucous and tear production by the conjunctiva lubricate the eye. Though it keeps parts of the eye free of disease, the conjunctiva is more subject to infection as it is exposed to infections and irritations from allergic reactions and other chemicals in the environment. This exposure makes diseases of the conjunctiva, the most common eye problems.

Conjunctivitis is the most common eye infection, which presents itself with redness, eye swelling, pain, itching and sticky discharge which may stick the eyelids together. The characteristic red or pink appearance on the surface of the eye is caused by inflamed blood vessels, when the membrane lining the eye becomes irritated and inflamed. Conjunctivitis is also called red eye, pink eye or Madras eye. Causes of conjunctivitis include irritants, allergies, dryness, bacterial or viral infections. One or both eyes may be affected; the infections may spread between eyes or they can be transmitted between people.

The infection often dissipates on its own. But antibiotic eye drops, oral medication, saline drops or a cold compress can help. Avoid touching the eyes with dirty hands or sharing towels, washcloths and eye making.

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