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Table 1 Comparison of key clinical characteristics between viral, bacterial and self-inflicted conjunctivitis

From: Clinical and public health management of conjunctivitis in the Israel Defense Forces

Clinical characteristics/Etiology Bacterial Viral Self-inflicted
Duration Can be prolonged without treatment. Treatment hastens recovery Days to weeks Can be prolonged. Weeks to months
Bilateral/unilateral Usually spreads to the other eye within days Usually spreads to the other eye within days Varies
Type of discharge Mostly purulent discharge Mostly aqueous, possibly mucoid discharge Tearing and excessive discharge, fresh and dry purulent discharge on eyelids and periorbital skin
Swollen lymph glands Not common Common Not common
Concomitant signs None Pyrexia , pharyngitis Emotional or social stress, multiple physical complaints
Complications Uncommon Uncommon Uncommon
Additional findings Ocular irritation Diffuse conjunctival involvement. Foreign body sensation Mainly involvement of the lower conjunctiva. Discharge and edema are conspicuously prominent in relation to the conjunctival hyperemia
Response to treatment Usually subsides without treatment. Usually subsides without treatment. Non-responsive to treatment
Responds well to antibiotics
Epidemiological characteristics Contagious. Can lead to an outbreak Very contagious. Can lead to an outbreak Rarely the cause of an outbreak. Is usually diagnosed in a single soldier for secondary gain and not in a cluster