Pink eye, otherwise known as conjunctivitis, is one of the most frequently seen eye infections, especially when it comes to kids. This infection can be caused by viruses, bacteria or hypersensitivity to ingredients in cosmetics, chlorine in swimming pools, and pollen, or other substances that come in contact with the eyes. Many types of conjunctivitis are quite transmittable and quickly infect many people in close proximity such as at schools and at the office or home.
Conjunctivitis occurs when the conjunctiva, or thin transparent layer of tissue that covers the white part of the eye, becomes inflamed. A sign that you have the infection is if you notice eye discharge, redness, itching or inflamed eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes in the morning. There are three basic subtypes of conjunctivitis: bacterial, viral and allergic conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis is usually a result of the same type of viruses that make us have those familiar red and watery eyes, runny nose and sore throat of the common cold. Symptoms of viral pink eye are likely to be present for one to two weeks and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. You may however, be able to reduce some of the discomfort by using soothing drops or compresses. Viral pink eye is transmittable until it's gone, so in the meantime practice excellent hygiene, remove eye discharge and try to avoid using communal pillowcases or towels. If your child has viral conjunctivitis, he or she will have to stay home for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.
The bacterial form which is caused by infections such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus is usually treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. One should notice an improvement within three or four days of treatment, but always make sure to follow the full prescription dosage to prevent the infection from returning.
Conjunctivitis that results from allergies is not infectious or contagious. It occurs more commonly among individuals who already have seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The red, itchy, watery eyes may be just one aspect of a larger allergic reaction. The first step in alleviating pink eye that is a result of allergies is to remove or avoid the allergen, if applicable. For mild cases, cool compresses and artificial tears may help. When the infection is more severe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. In cases of persistent allergic pink eye, topical steroid eye drops may be tried.
With any form conjunctivitis, practicing sanitary habits is the surest way to prevent it from getting worse. Clean your hands thoroughly and often and don't touch your eyes with your hands.
Pink eye should always be examined by an experienced eye doctor to determine the type and proper course of treatment. Don't ever self prescribe! Don't forget the earlier you begin treatment, the lower likelihood you have of giving the infection to loved ones or suffering unnecessarily.