In this disorder there is discharge which sticks the lids together during the night. The inner surface of the lids is much reddened, the blood vessels in the lining membrane are much enlarged, and the lids are slightly swollen. The redness may extend to the eyeball and give it a bloodshot appearance. There is no interference with sight other than momentary blurring caused by the discharge, and occasionally there is very severe pain, as if a cinder had suddenly fallen in the eye. This symptom may occur at night and awaken the patient, and may be the reason for his first consulting a physician.
One eye is commonly attacked twenty four to thirty six hours before the other, and even if it is thought that the cause is a cinder, in case of one eye, it can hardly be possible to sustain this belief in the case of the involvement of both eyes. There is a feeling of discomfort about the eyes, and often a burning, and constant watering, the tears containing flakes of white discharge.
When the discharge is a copious, creamy pus or “matter,” associated with great swelling of the lids and pain on exposure to light, the cause is usually a germ of a special disease, and the eyesight will very probably be lost unless a skillful physician be immediately secured. Early treatment is, however, of great service, and, until a physician can be obtained, the treatment recommended below should be followed conscientiously; by this means the sight may be saved. This dangerous variety of inflammation of the eyes is not rare in the newborn, and infants having red eyes within a few days of birth should immediately receive proper attention, or blindness for life will be the issue. This is the usual source of that form of blindness with which babies are commonly said to have been born.
All forms of severe inflammation of the lids are contagious, especially the variety last considered, and can be conveyed, by means of the discharge, through the agency of towels, handkerchiefs, soap, wash basins, etc., and produce the same or sometimes different types of inflammation in healthy eyes. Therefore, if the severe form of conjunctivitis breaks out among any large number of people, as in schools, prisons, asylums, and almshouses, isolation of the patients should be enforced.