Conjunctivitis, also referred to as pink eye, is one of the most common eye infections, especially with children. Pink eye can be caused by bacteria, a virus or even irritation from pollen, chlorine in pools, and ingredients in cosmetics, or other substances, which touch your eyes. Many forms of conjunctivitis are very communicable and easily cause a pink eye outbreak at schools and in the home or office.
Pink eye occurs when the thin clear layer of tissue that lines the white part of the eye, or conjunctiva, gets inflamed. A good clue that you have the infection is if you notice eye discharge, itching, redness or inflamed eyelids and eyes that are crusty early in the day. Pink eye infections can be divided into three main sub-types: bacterial, viral and allergic conjunctivitis.
The viral type is often a result of the same viruses that are the source of 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 be present for seven to fourteen days and then will clear up on their own. To ease discomfort, compresses applied to the eyes will give you some relief. The viral form of pink eye is transmittable until it's gone, so meanwhile, remove any discharge and avoid using communal towels or pillowcases. If your son or daughter has viral conjunctivitis, he or she will have to stay home from school for three days to a week until it clears up.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by a common bacterial infection that gets into the eye often from an external source such as a finger, makeup or lotion. This type of conjunctivitis is most often treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. You should see an improvement within just a few days of treatment, but be sure to complete the entire course of antibiotics to stop the infection from coming back.
Conjunctivitis due to allergies is not contagious. It occurs more commonly in 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 pink eye is to remove or avoid the irritant, when applicable. To ease discomfort, cool compresses and artificial tears may help. In more severe cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. When the pink eye persists for an extended period, steroid eye drops might be tried.
In all forms of pink eye, practicing sanitary habits is the best way to keep it from spreading. Wash your hands thoroughly and often and don't touch your eyes with your hands.
Anytime you develop red, irritated eyes, you should call your optometrist immediately and schedule an eye exam. Also, if you wear contact lenses, remove them and wear your glasses until your eyes have fully recovered.