Conjunctivitis, often called “pink eye,” is a common eye disease, especially in children. Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the conjunctiva (the thin transparent tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye). Pink eye can affect one or both eyes. Many forms of conjunctivitis are highly contagious and easily spread in schools and at
home. While conjunctivitis is usually a minor eye infection, sometimes it can develop into a more
Conjunctivitis may be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It can also occur due to an allergic reaction to irritants in the air like pollen and smoke, chlorine in swimming pools, and ingredients in cosmetics or other products that come in contact with the eyes.
- Pink discoloration to the whites of one or both eyes
- Red, watery eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Blurred vision or sandy/scratchy feeling in the eyes
- Pus-like or watery discharge coming from one or both eyes
- Itching or burning sensation in one or both eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
There are three main categories of conjunctivitis: allergic, infectious and chemical:
- Allergic Conjunctivitis – occurs more commonly among people who have seasonal allergies. At some point they come into contact with something that triggers an allergic reaction in their eyes.
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis – is an infection most often caused by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria from your own skin and/or respiratory system. Infection can also occur by physical contact with other people, poor hygiene (touching the eye with unclean hands) or by use of contaminated eye makeup and facial lotions.
- Viral Conjunctivitis – most commonly caused by contagious viruses associated with the common cold. The primary means of contracting this is through exposure to coughing or sneezing by persons with upper respiratory tract infections. It can also occur as the virus spreads along the body’s own mucous membranes connecting lungs, throat, nose, tear ducts, and conjunctiva.
- Chemical Conjunctivitis – can be caused by irritants like air pollution, chlorine in swimming pools, and exposure to noxious chemicals.
Pink eye is highly contagious so it’s imperative that proper precautions are taken to prevent infecting others. Washing you hands and avoiding contact with others who are contagious are necessary. If you or someone in your home has conjunctivitis, follow the steps below to prevent the spread of the infection:
- Any time you come in contact with your eye, wash them thoroughly.
- Wash any clothing touched by the infected eyes (clothing, towels and bedding).
- Do not touch the infected eye or the infection will likely spread to the other eye.
- Do not share make-up. After conjunctivitis heals, throw away all used make-up.
- Allergic conjunctivitis — The first step should be to remove or avoid the irritant if at all possible. Cool compresses and artificial tears can relieve discomfort. In more severe cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines may be prescribed. Topical steroid eye drops may also be prescribed.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis — This type of conjunctivitis is typically treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments. Improvement will occur after 3-4 days of use. Finish entire dosage even if symptoms improve.
- Viral Conjunctivitis — There are no drops or ointments to treat the virus for this type of conjunctivitis. Antibiotics will not cure a viral infection. Like a common cold, the virus just has to run its course, which could take up to 2-3 weeks. The symptoms can often be relieved with cool compresses and artificial tear solutions. Topical steroid drops may also be prescribed to reduce the discomfort from inflammation.
- Chemical Conjunctivitis — Treatment for chemical conjunctivitis requires careful flushing of the eyes with saline and may require topical steroids. The more acute chemical injuries are medical emergencies, particularly alkali burns, which can lead to severe scarring or even a loss of the eye.
You can soothe the discomfort of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis by applying cool compresses to
your affected eye or eyes. To make a compress, soak a clean cloth in cool water and apply it
gently to your closed eyelids.
For allergic conjunctivitis, avoid rubbing your eyes. Use cool compresses to soothe your eyes. Over the counter eye drops are available. Antihistamine eye drops should help to alleviate the symptoms and lubricating eye drops help to rinse the allergen off of the surface of the eye.
Call our office at 866-340-EYES if you experience conjunctivitis so we can help diagnose the cause and the proper course of action.