Conjunctivitis, informally called pink eye, is a frequently encountered eye infection, especially with children. This infection can be caused by bacteria, a virus or even hypersensitivity to ingredients found in cosmetics, pollen, and chlorine in swimming pools, or other substances, which come in contact with the eyes. Certain kinds of pink eye are very transmittable and swiftly cause a pink eye outbreak at school and in the home or office.
Pink eye ensues when the thin transparent layer of tissue lining the white part of the eye, or conjunctiva, gets inflamed. You can recognize pink eye if you notice eye itching, redness, discharge or inflamed eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes early in the day. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. The three basic kinds of pink eye are: allergic, bacterial and viral conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis is usually caused by a similar virus to that which produces the recognizable red, watery eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. The uncomfortable symptoms of the viral form of conjunctivitis will usually last from one to two weeks and then will clear up on their own. You may however, be able to relieve some of the discomfort by using soothing drops or compresses. Viral pink eye is transmittable until it is completely cleared up, so in the meantime maintain excellent hygiene, remove any discharge and try to avoid sharing pillowcases or towels. If your child has viral conjunctivitis, he or she will have to stay home from school from school for three days to a week until it clears up.
Bacterial pink eye is caused by a common bacterial infection that gets into the eye often from an external object touching the eye that carries the bacteria, such as a dirty finger. This type of pink eye is most commonly treated with antibiotic cream or drops. One should notice an improvement after three or four days of antibiotic drops, but be sure to adhere to the complete prescription dosage to stop pink eye from coming back.
Conjunctivitis caused by allergies is not contagious or infectious. It usually occurs among 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 response. The first step in alleviating allergic pink eye is to remove or avoid the allergen, if possible. Use cool compresses and artificial tears to relieve discomfort in mild cases. When the infection is more severe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. In cases of lasting allergic pink eye, topical steroid eye drops may be used.
With any form conjunctivitis, practicing good hygiene is the first rule of thumb. Clean your hands thoroughly and often and don't touch your eyes with your hands.
Pink eye should always be checked out by an experienced optometrist to identify the cause and optimal course of treatment. Don't ever self prescribe! Remember the earlier you begin treatment, the lower likelihood you have of spreading the infection to others or suffering unnecessarily.