Pink eye, also referred to as conjunctivitis, is a frequently seen eye infection, especially when it comes to children. It can be caused by bacteria, a virus or even hypersensitivity to ingredients found in cosmetics, chlorine in swimming pools, and pollen, or other products that penetrate your eyes. Many types of pink eye can be fairly contagious and swiftly spread in school and at the office.
Pink eye ensues when the thin transparent layer of tissue that protects the white part of the eye, or conjunctiva, gets inflamed. A sign that you have conjunctivitis is if you notice eye itching, discharge, redness or inflamed eyelids and eyes that are crusty in the morning. There are three basic categories of conjunctivitis: bacterial, allergic and viral conjunctivitis.
The viral manifestation is often a result of a similar virus to that which produces the recognizable red and watery eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. Symptoms of viral pink eye will often stick around for seven to fourteen days and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. You may however, be able to alleviate some of the symptoms by applying soothing drops or compresses. Viral pink eye is transmittable until it's gone, so in the meantime practice excellent hygiene, wipe away eye discharge and avoid using communal towels or pillowcases. Children who have viral pink eye should stay home for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.
A bacterial infection such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus is commonly treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. Usually you should see the symptoms disappearing after just a few days of antibiotic drops, but always be sure to adhere to the complete antibiotic prescription to prevent pink eye from recurring.
Allergic pink eye is not infectious or contagious. It usually occurs among those who already suffer from seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The red, itchy, watery eyes may be just one aspect of their overall allergic response. The first step in treating allergic conjunctivitis is to remove the irritant, when applicable. To ease discomfort, cool compresses and artificial tears may help. When the infection is more severe, your optometrist may decide to prescribe a medication such as an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. When the conjunctivitis persists for an extended period, steroid eye drops may be tried.
Conjunctivitis should always be diagnosed by a qualified optometrist to identify the cause and best course of treatment. Don't ever self prescribe! Remember the sooner you start treatment, the lower chance you have of giving pink eye to others or prolonging your discomfort.