Conjunctivitis, also called pink eye, is one of the most frequently seen eye infections, especially when it comes to kids. Conjunctivitis can be caused by bacteria, viruses or even irritation from chlorine in pools, pollen, and ingredients found in cosmetics, or other products, which penetrate the eyes. Some types of conjunctivitis may be very contagious and quickly spread at schools and at the office.
Pink eye develops when the thin transparent layer of tissue that protects the white part of the eye, or conjunctiva, becomes inflamed. You can recognize conjunctivitis if you notice eye redness, itching, discharge, or swollen eyelids and crusty eyes early in the day. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. 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 virus that makes us have those familiar watery and red eyes, runny nose and sore throat of the common cold. The uncomfortable symptoms of the viral form of conjunctivitis will often be present for one to two weeks and then will disappear on their own. To ease uncomfortable symptoms, compresses applied to the eyes will give you some relief. The viral form of conjunctivitis is contagious until it is completely cleared up, so in the meanwhile wipe away any discharge and try to avoid using communal pillowcases or towels. Children who have viral conjunctivitis should be kept home for three days to a week until they are no longer contagious.
Bacterial pink eye is caused by a common bacterial infection that enters the eye often from something outside entering the eye that is carrying the bacteria, such as a dirty finger. This form of infection is most often treated with antibiotic cream or drops. Most often one should notice an improvement within just a few days of treatment, but always be sure to complete the entire course of antibiotics to prevent conjunctivitis from recurring.
Allergic pink eye is not infectious or contagious. It is usually a result of a known allergy such as hay fever or pet allergies that sets off an allergic reaction in their eyes. The first step in alleviating allergic pink eye is to remove the allergen, if applicable. For mild cases, try artificial tears or compresses. When the infection is more severe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. In cases of persistent allergic conjunctivitis, topical steroid eye drops might be used.
With any form pink eye, being certain to practice sanitary habits is the best way to keep it from getting worse. Try not to touch your eyes, and if you do, be certain to wash your hands well.
Even though conjunctivitis is often a highly treatable eye infection, it can sometimes worsen into a more severe condition. Any time you notice symptoms of conjunctivitis, be certain to have your optometrist take a look so he or she can determine how to best to treat it.