Conjunctivitis, colloquially known as pink eye, is one of the most frequently encountered eye infections, especially when it comes to children. Conjunctivitis can be caused by a virus, bacteria or hypersensitivity to chlorine in pools, pollen, and ingredients in cosmetics, or other substances that come in contact with your eyes. Certain forms of conjunctivitis are quite transmittable and swiftly infect many people in close proximity such as at schools and at the office.
This kind of infection occurs when the thin transparent layer of tissue that protects the white part of your eye, or conjunctiva, becomes inflamed. A good clue that you have pink eye is if you notice eye discharge, redness, itching or inflamed eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes in the morning. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. There are three basic categories of conjunctivitis: allergic, bacterial and viral conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis is usually caused by a similar virus to that which makes us have those recognizable watery and red eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. Symptoms of viral pink eye will usually be present for seven to fourteen days and then will resolve themselves on their own. You may however, be able to reduce some of the discomfort by using soothing drops or compresses. The viral form of conjunctivitis is transmittable until it's gone, so in the meantime remove any discharge and avoid sharing towels or pillowcases. Children who have viral pink eye should stay home from school for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.
The bacterial form which is caused by infections such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus is usually treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. One should notice an improvement after three or four days of treatment, but always make sure to adhere to the full prescription dosage to stop conjunctivitis from recurring.
Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. It occurs more commonly in people who already have seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The red, itchy, watery eyes may be just part of a larger allergic response. First of all, to alleviate the symptoms of allergic pink eye, the irritant itself must be removed. Use cool compresses and artificial tears to alleviate discomfort in mild cases. When the infection is more severe, your optometrist may decide to prescribe a medication such as an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. In cases of persistent allergic infections, steroid eye drops might be prescribed.
With any form pink eye, practicing proper hygiene is the best way to keep it from spreading. Clean your hands thoroughly and often and don't touch your eyes with your hands.
Conjunctivitis should always be checked out by a professional eye doctor in order to identify the type and best course of treatment. Never treat yourself! Remember the earlier you start treatment, the lower likelihood you have of giving conjunctivitis to others or prolonging your discomfort.