Pink eye, formally called conjunctivitis, is one of the most frequently encountered eye infections, particularly when it comes to kids. This infection can be caused by viruses, bacteria or irritation from ingredients in cosmetics, pollen, and chlorine in pools, or other irritants that come into contact with your eyes. Some forms of conjunctivitis can be highly communicable and easily infect many people in close proximity such as in schools and in the home or office.
Conjunctivitis develops when the conjunctiva, or thin transparent layer of tissue that covers the white part of your eye, gets inflamed. You'll be able to recognize the infection if you notice eye discharge, itching, redness or inflamed eyelids and eyes that are crusty in the morning. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. There are three main categories of conjunctivitis: viral, allergic and bacterial conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis is often a result of a similar virus to that which is the source of the recognizable 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 stick around for a week to two and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. You may however, be able to reduce some of the symptoms by applying soothing drops or compresses. The viral form of pink eye is contagious until it is completely cleared up, so meanwhile, practice excellent hygiene, remove any discharge and try to avoid sharing pillowcases or towels. If your child has viral pink eye, he or she will have to be kept home from school for three days to a week until they are no longer contagious.
A bacterial infection such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus is most often treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. You should see the symptoms disappearing after just a few days of treatment, but always be sure to complete the entire course of antibiotics to prevent conjunctivitis from returning.
Conjunctivitis caused by allergies is not contagious. It usually occurs among individuals who already suffer from seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The red, itchy, watery eyes may be just a small part of their overall allergic reaction. The first step in treating conjunctivitis that is due to allergies is to eliminate or avoid the allergen, when applicable. Use cool compresses and artificial tears to alleviate discomfort in mild cases. When the infection is more severe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. When the infection persists for a long time, topical steroid eye drops may be used.
With any form pink eye, implementing proper hygiene is the best way to prevent it from spreading. Clean your hands thoroughly and frequently and don't touch your eyes with your hands.
Pink eye should always be diagnosed by a qualified eye doctor in order to determine the type and optimal course of treatment. Don't ever treat yourself! Remember the sooner you begin treatment, the lower chance you have of giving conjunctivitis to loved ones or suffering unnecessarily.