Inflammation of the conjunctiva is extremely common in the general population and the general practitioner is often expected to find out the cause and treat this condition. If we consider that the conjunctiva is a mucous membrane, which is exposed during the waking hours to wind and weather more or less continuously, year in, year out, then it is not surprising that this membrane is rather susceptible to inflammation. Furthermore, the conjunctiva can be compared with the lining of a joint, the eye being considered as an unusual type of ball-
and-socket joint. The analogy takes on more meaning when the relation between conjunctivitis and some joint diseases is seen.
There are a large number of different specific causes of conjunctivitis. Some of these are interesting but rare and it is important that the student obtains an idea of the relative importance and frequency of the different aetiological factors. For this reason, in this chapter a more or less categorical list is given of the different causes. In the chapter on the red eye (Chapter 7), you will find a plan of approach to the red eye that deals with the importance and more common causes of conjunctivitis seen in day-to-day practice.
Although the conjunctiva is continuously exposed to infection, it has special protection from the tears, which contain immunoglobulins and lysozyme. The tears also help to wash away debris and foreign bodies and this protective action can explain the self-limiting nature of most types of conjunctivitis.
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