What You Need to Know About “Pink Eye”
“Pink eye” is an eye problem that results in a pink, or bloodshot, and uncomfortable eyes. The phrase “pink eye” is commonly used to describe the condition known to eye care providers as conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis occurs when the clear membrane that covers the white portion of the eye, called the conjunctiva, becomes inflamed. It can occur for a variety of reasons, and it can be a scary or distressing diagnosis to receive. Luckily, most cases of conjunctivitis are easily treated, and they can usually be easily avoided. Continue reading to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for “pink eye.”
The most common form of pink eye is caused by a viral infection. It is the most contagious form of pink eye and can be spread through contact with an infected person, though airborne transmission, or even through hand-eye contact after touching a contaminated object. This condition can occasionally accompany a cold or flu-like symptoms. The symptoms of viral conjunctivitis commonly includes a bloodshot eye with mild discomfort, light sensitivity, and watery. It typically starts in only one eye, then spreads to the other eye after a day or two. In very severe cases, viral conjunctivitis can cause swollen lids, vision changes, or severe pain.
Like most viral infections, this form of pink eye will run its course and resolve on its own in one to two weeks. There is no “cure” that can immediately eliminate the infection, but using therapies such as lubricating eye drops or cool washcloths over the eyes can help improve comfort. In some severe cases, medication may be needed to reduce inflammation or swelling caused by the viral infection. If you become infected with this condition, it is important to practice diligent hygiene, including frequently washing hands and keeping the face clean, cleaning commonly-touched items like pillows, sheets, and towels, and throwing away any cosmetic products that may have come close to the infected eye.
One form of pink eye, called allergic conjunctivitis, is caused by the body’s hyper-reactivity reaction to certain allergens like pollen or dust. During the spring and fall months when the pollen count is high, this condition is much more common. Compared to viral conjunctivitis, this form of pink eye tends to be much more mild and is not contagious. The symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis commonly affect both eyes, and include itching, redness, watering, and mildly swollen eyelids.
This is a very common condition, and luckily it is easily treated with over-the-counter medications. Antihistamine, or “anti-itch” eye drops, can be found at most pharmacies and are highly effective in managing the uncomfortable symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis. In more severe cases where these commercial products are not effective, topical steroids or other prescription eye drops can help improve comfort. It may be necessary to consult with a primary care doctor to see if using an oral allergy medication is appropriate to help manage the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is the least common form of pink eye. As the name suggests, it is caused by a bacterial infection. If it is left untreated, it can progress and cause damage to the front of the eyes. Bacterial pink eye causes redness, discomfort, and lots of thick, greenish-yellow discharge. It can affect one or both eyes, and is a contagious condition. In cases of bacterial conjunctivitis, there are antibiotic eye drops that can be used to treat the underlying infection and improve symptoms.
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