Conjunctivitis, colloquially called pink eye, is one of the most common eye infections, particularly with kids. This infection can be caused by viruses, bacteria or allergens like chlorine in swimming pools, pollen, and ingredients found in cosmetics, or other irritants, which touch your eyes. Certain forms of pink eye are quite communicable and rapidly infect many people in close proximity such as in school and at the home or office.
This type of infection develops when the thin clear layer of tissue that covers the white part of the eye, or conjunctiva, becomes inflamed. You can identify pink eye if you notice eye redness, itching, discharge, or swollen eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes in the morning. The three main categories of conjunctivitis are: allergic, viral and bacterial conjunctivitis.
The viral type is usually a result of a similar virus to that which makes us have those familiar watery and red eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis can stick around for seven to fourteen days and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. Applying compresses to your eyes in a dark room may provide some relief. The viral form of pink eye is transmittable until it is completely cleared up, so in the meantime maintain excellent hygiene, wipe away any discharge and avoid sharing towels or pillowcases. Children who have viral conjunctivitis should be kept home for three days to a week until it clears up.
A bacterial infection such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus is usually treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. Most often you should notice the symptoms disappearing after three or four days of treatment, but make sure to complete the entire course of antibiotics to prevent conjunctivitis from coming back.
Allergic pink eye is not infectious or contagious. It is usually a result of a known allergy such as pollen, pet dander or smoke that sets off an allergic reaction in their eyes. The first step in alleviating conjunctivitis that is a result of allergies is to eliminate or avoid the allergen, when applicable. For mild cases, cool compresses and artificial tears may help. When the infection is more severe, your eye doctor might give you a prescription for an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. In cases of chronic allergic conjunctivitis, topical steroid eye drops might be used.
With any form pink eye, practicing sanitary habits is the first rule of thumb. Try not to touch your eyes, and if you do, be certain to wash your hands thoroughly.
While conjunctivitis is usually a highly treatable eye infection, it can sometimes worsen into a more serious problem. Any time you think you have pink eye, be sure to have your eye doctor take a look so he or she can see what the best treatment will be.