Pink eye, otherwise known as conjunctivitis, is one of the most common eye infections, particularly with kids. This condition can be caused by a virus, bacteria or even sensitivities to pollen, ingredients found in cosmetics, and chlorine in swimming pools, or other irritants that come in contact with the eyes. Many types of conjunctivitis may be fairly contagious and easily go around in school and at the office.
This infection develops when the conjunctiva, or thin clear layer of tissue covering the white part of your eye, gets inflamed. A sign that you have conjunctivitis is if you notice discharge, itching, redness or inflamed eyelids and crusty eyes in the morning. The three basic kinds of pink eye are: allergic, viral and bacterial conjunctivitis.
The viral manifestation is often caused by a similar virus to that which makes us have those familiar red, watery eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. Symptoms of the viral form of pink eye will often last from a week to two and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. You may however, be able to alleviate some of the symptoms by using soothing drops or compresses. Viral pink eye is transmittable until it is completely cleared up, so in the meantime maintain excellent hygiene, wipe away discharge and avoid using communal pillowcases or towels. Children who have viral conjunctivitis will need to stay home from school for three days to a week until they are no longer contagious.
A bacterial infection such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus is most often treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. Most often one should notice the symptoms disappearing after just a few days of treatment, but always be sure to follow the complete antibiotic prescription to stop the infection from coming back.
Conjunctivitis due to allergies is not infectious or contagious. It usually occurs in individuals who already have seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The red, itchy, watery eyes may be just a small part of their overall allergic response. The first step in alleviating allergic pink eye is to eliminate or avoid the allergen, when applicable. For mild cases, try artificial tears or compresses. When the infection is more severe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. When the pink eye persists for an extended period, topical steroid eye drops could be used.
In all instances of conjunctivitis, practicing proper hygiene is the first rule of thumb. Try not to touch your eyes, and if you do, make sure to clean your hands well.
Pink eye should always be diagnosed by a professional eye doctor to identify the type and best course of treatment. Never self prescribe! Remember the sooner you begin treatment, the lower likelihood you have of giving pink eye to others or prolonging your discomfort.