Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a parent like the word pink eye, but pink eye is a common eye issue and is rarely serious.
What is pink eye?
Pink eye or conjunctivitis is a condition where the conjunctiva or the white part of your eye is irritated by either an infection or allergies. The most usual symptoms are red, sometimes swollen eyes and in some cases, you may even experience a sticky discharge (that’s most noticeable when you wake up the morning after sleeping. Conjunctivitis can impact both eyes or only one and can be very contagious (depending on the cause).
What are the main types of conjunctivitis?
There are three main types of conjunctivitis: viral, bacterial, and those caused by allergies.
Viral conjunctivitis is the most common type and is highly contagious. This the kind that is most associated with school systems, daycare centers, and the workplace.
One way to better understand viral conjunctivitis is to think of it as a cold that impacts your eyes, while bacterial conjunctivitis is more closely associated with the bacteria that causes cases of strep throat. Both are spread from person to person in similar ways, and their transmission can be reduced or eliminated with good hygiene practices when around others or when handling your contact lenses.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is also contagious, but this kind of infection is likely to cause a more pronounced sticky discharge of pus. Allergic conjunctivitis however is not contagious, and there is usually no sticky discharge associated with it.
Allergic conjunctivitis is usually caused by exposure to some environmental component, like pollen, smoke, exhaust fumes, chemicals, pet dander, or other irritants. Again, allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.
The symptoms of conjunctivitis include a sensation that your eyes feel gritty, a burning sensation, itching, stinging, watery eyes, painful eyes, watery discharge, pussy discharge, puffy eyelids, and blurred or hazy vision.
What can you do about pink eye?
In most cases, conjunctivitis will clear on its own in about 1-2 weeks as your body does its job, or after the exposure to whatever irritated your eyes has passed (in allergic conjunctivitis cases). If your symptoms last longer than this, you should consult your doctor for an evaluation and potential treatment, and rule out other more serious eye issues (foreign bodies in the eye or more serious infections, etc).
In the meantime, the usual course of action is to allow the infection to run its course. You may benefit from applying a cool (or warm for some people) compress to your eyes, or applying artificial tears to help alleviate some of the symptoms.
Some important prevention tips include abstaining from using contact lenses and throwing them away to prevent re-infection. Also, throw out your mascara and eyeliner, and make sure to use fresh, clean towels, washcloths, tissues, and pillowcases. Wash your hands regularly, and make sure not to touch your eyes as much as possible (which is hard to do when they are irritated).
A good rule of thumb is to either dispose of or sterilize everything that might have come into contact with your eyes, mouth, and nose during the time that the infection began, and also keep in mind that you can spread the infection from one eye to the other (if you only have symptoms in one eye).
With proper hygiene, you can reduce your risk of suffering from this common eye issue, and keep those two frightening words, pink eye, out of your routine.
Have questions or concerns about your eye health? Schedule an appointment with our team today.