Pink eye, otherwise known as conjunctivitis, is one of the most common eye infections, particularly with children. This infection can be caused by bacteria, viruses or allergies to pollen, chlorine in swimming pools, and ingredients found in cosmetics, or other irritants that come in contact with your eyes. Many types of pink eye can be highly contagious and quickly spread in school and in the office or home.
Pink eye develops when the conjunctiva, or thin clear layer of tissue protecting the white part of your eye, gets inflamed. You can identify the infection if you notice redness, itching, discharge, or swollen eyelids and crusty eyes early in the day. Pink eye infections can be divided into three basic kinds: bacterial, viral and allergic conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis 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 viral pink eye will usually last from a week to two and then will disappear on their own. If you feel uncomfortable symptoms, compresses applied to the eyes will give you some relief. The viral form of conjunctivitis is transmittable until it is completely cleared up, so in the meanwhile wipe away eye discharge and avoid sharing towels or pillowcases. Children who have viral conjunctivitis will need to be kept home for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.
Bacterial pink eye is caused by a common bacterial infection that enters the eye often from a foreign source such as a finger, makeup or lotion. This type of conjunctivitis is most commonly treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. You should notice the symptoms disappearing within three or four days of treatment, but always make sure to take the entire course of antibiotics to prevent conjunctivitis from returning.
Allergic conjunctivitis is not transmittable. It usually occurs among individuals who already suffer from seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The allergic symptoms in the eyes may be just part of a larger allergic reaction. The first step in treating pink eye that is due to allergies is to eliminate the irritant, if applicable. To ease discomfort, 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 remains for an extended period, steroid eye drops could be tried.
In all cases of pink eye, implementing proper hygiene is the surest way to prevent it from spreading. Clean your hands thoroughly and frequently and don't touch your eyes with your hands.
Pink eye should always be examined by a professional eye doctor to identify the cause and proper course of treatment. Never self prescribe! Keep in mind the sooner you begin treatment, the less likelihood you have of giving the infection to loved ones or prolonging your discomfort.