Conjunctivitis, informally referred to as pink eye, is a frequently encountered eye infection, especially in kids. Conjunctivitis can be caused by bacteria, a virus or even allergies to chlorine in swimming pools, pollen, and ingredients found in cosmetics, or other irritants, which penetrate your eyes. Some types of conjunctivitis can be fairly contagious and rapidly cause a conjunctivitis outbreak at schools and in the home or office.
Conjunctivitis occurs when the conjunctiva, or thin clear layer of tissue lining the white part of your eye, becomes inflamed. It's easy to recognize the infection if you notice eye discharge, redness, itching or inflamed eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes early in the day. Conjunctivitis infections can be divided into three main kinds: bacterial, allergic and viral conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis is usually caused by the same viruses that produce the recognizable red and watery eyes, runny nose and sore throat of the common cold. Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis are likely to last from a week to two and then will resolve themselves on their own. You may however, be able to relieve some of the symptoms by using soothing drops or compresses. Viral pink eye is transmittable until it's gone, so in the meanwhile maintain excellent hygiene, wipe away eye discharge and avoid sharing pillowcases or towels. Children who have viral pink eye will need to be kept home for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by a common bacterial infection that gets into the eye usually from an external object touching the eye that carries the bacteria, such as a dirty finger. This type of infection is usually treated with antibiotic cream or drops. One should notice the symptoms disappearing after three or four days of antibiotic drops, but make sure to finish the entire course of antibiotics to prevent pink eye from returning.
Allergic pink eye is not contagious or infectious. 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 part of a larger allergic reaction. The first step in relieving allergic pink eye is to remove or avoid the irritant, if possible. Try cool compresses and artificial tears to relieve discomfort in mild cases. When the infection is more severe, your eye doctor might prescribe a medication such as an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. When the infection persists for a long time, topical steroid eye drops could be used.
With any form pink eye, making certain to practice sanitary habits is the first rule of thumb. Clean your hands thoroughly and often and don't touch your eyes with your hands.
Pink eye should always be examined by a professional optometrist to identify the type and optimal course of treatment. Never treat yourself! Remember the sooner you start treatment, the lower likelihood you have of spreading pink eye to others or prolonging your discomfort.