Pink eye, formally called conjunctivitis, is a frequently seen eye infection, particularly in children. Conjunctivitis can be caused by bacteria, a virus or hypersensitivity to chlorine in swimming pools, ingredients found in cosmetics, and pollen, or other irritants, which touch your eyes. Some forms of pink eye can be very communicable and easily cause a pink eye outbreak in school and in the office.
Conjunctivitis develops when the thin clear layer of tissue covering the white part of your eye, or conjunctiva, becomes inflamed. A sign that you have pink eye is if you notice eye redness, discharge, itching or swollen eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes in the morning. Pink eye infections can be divided into three basic categories: allergic, bacterial and viral conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis is usually a result of the same kind of virus that makes us have those familiar red and watery eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. The red, itchy, watery eyes caused by the viral form of conjunctivitis are likely to last from a week to two and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. 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 meanwhile, wipe away eye 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 they are no longer contagious.
A bacterial infection such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus is usually treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. You should see an improvement after just a few days of treatment, but make sure to complete the entire course of antibiotics to prevent pink eye from coming back.
Conjunctivitis caused by allergies is not infectious or contagious. It is usually a result of a known allergy such as hay fever or pet allergies that triggers an allergic response in their eyes. The first step in alleviating pink eye that is due to allergies is to eliminate the irritant, if applicable. Try 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. When the pink eye lasts for an extended period, topical steroid eye drops might be prescribed.
While pink eye is usually a minor condition, it can sometimes develop into a more severe issue. If you have signs of pink eye, be sure to have your optometrist examine you in order to see how to best to treat it.