Health officials say they are particularly concerned with the number of children aged 0-9 years who are being infected.
In a media release the Ministry said conjunctivitis is the medical term used to describe an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the thin lining that protects the white part of the eyes and inside the eyelids.
“Sometimes ‘red eyes’ or ‘sexy eyes” is the everyday term people use to describe an infection or irritation of the eye.
“It is a common condition that is rarely serious and unlikely to cause long term eye or vision impairment if detected and treated early,” the release said. Conjunctivitis it is often caused by a virus or bacterial infection. It can also be caused by allergies triggered by pollen (hay fever), dust mite, animal fur and eye make-up.
“Irritants or chemical are sometimes the cause — like getting shampoo in your eyes, or from the chlorine in swimming pools.”
The Ministry says viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are extremely contagious and it can spread easily, usually by touching something that has touched an infected person’s eye. Red eye caused by allergic or chemical agents are not contagious.
The symptoms typically begin in one eye and then involve the other eye within a few days. The infection starts with the white part of the eyes becoming red, swollen and inflamed. The eyes may feel gritty and uncomfortable or itchy and sore but it is not usually very painful.
“The eyes will often have a white or yellow sticky fluid or discharge with a bacterial infection. This can cause the eyelids to stick together or form crusts while you sleep. With allergic reaction the eyes are more watery and itchy. “Most cases of conjunctivitis go away on their own, without treatment. But when red eye is caused by an infection such as bacteria, then it can be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment.
Conjunctivitis caused by other problems can be treated with eye drops normally used to treat allergies. This will help reduce eye discomfort and stickiness. For people with allergic conjunctivitis, antihistamines and eye drops may help improve symptoms.
To prevent the problem spreading to others, it is important firstly to avoid rubbing eyes and to avoid touching his or her pillows, sheets, towels or other personal items.
“But above all we encourage people to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and clean water or use alcohol-based hand gels. It is very important that children diagnosed with red eyes should stay away and not play with other children,” the Health Ministry says.
You should see an optometrist or doctor right away if:
There is any pain inside the eye or light hurts your eyes,
There is any sudden change in your vision,
It is a baby who has symptoms of conjunctivitis,
You have conjunctivitis symptoms and wear contact lenses, as contact lens wearers have a greater risk of more serious eye problems,
Your symptoms do not improve, or get worse after a few days.