Conjunctivitis, also called pink eye, is one of the most common eye infections, especially in children. Pink eye can be caused by viruses, bacteria or even hypersensitivity to ingredients in cosmetics, pollen, and chlorine in pools, or other irritants that touch your eyes. Many kinds of conjunctivitis are quite communicable and rapidly cause a pink eye outbreak in school and in the office or home.
Pink eye ensues when the conjunctiva, or thin transparent layer of tissue that protects the white part of your eye, gets inflamed. A good clue that you have pink eye is if you notice eye redness, itching, discharge, or inflamed eyelids and eyes that are crusty in the morning. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. The three main subtypes of pink eye are: viral, bacterial and allergic conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis is often a result of the same type of viruses that produce the familiar watery and red eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. The red, itchy, watery eyes caused by the viral form of conjunctivitis will usually last from seven to fourteen days and then will resolve themselves on their own. You may however, be able to reduce some of the symptoms by applying soothing drops or compresses. The viral form of pink eye is contagious until it is completely cleared up, so in the meantime remove eye discharge and avoid sharing towels or pillowcases. If your son or daughter has viral pink eye, you will need to keep him/her at home for three days to a week until it clears up.
Bacterial pink eye is caused by a common bacterial infection that enters the eye often from an external object such as a finger, makeup or lotion. This type of infection is usually treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. Most often one should notice an improvement after three or four days of treatment, but be sure to follow the full prescription dosage to stop pink eye from returning.
Pink eye caused by allergies is not 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 a larger allergic reaction. The first step in relieving conjunctivitis that is due to allergies is to remove the irritant, when applicable. To ease discomfort, cool compresses and artificial tears may help. When the infection is more severe, your eye doctor may decide to prescribe a medication such as an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. In cases of lasting allergic pink eye, topical steroid eye drops might be used.
With any case conjunctivitis, practicing sanitary habits is the surest way to keep it from getting worse. Try not to touch your eyes, and if you do, make sure to wash your hands well.
While conjunctivitis is typically a highly treatable condition, it can sometimes deteriorate into a more severe problem. Any time you have signs of pink eye, be certain to have your optometrist take a look so he or she can decide how to best to treat it.