– Ed

What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye, (also called conjunctivitis) is inflammation of the thin, clear covering over the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids.

Although the conjunctiva is transparent, it contains blood vessels that overlay the white of the eye. Anything that triggers inflammation will cause these conjunctival blood vessels to dilate. This is what causes red, bloodshot eyes.

Conjunctivitis can have several causes (see below). Pink eye refers only to viral conjunctivitis, a highly contagious infection caused by a variety of viruses.

What causes conjunctivitis?

The primary types of conjunctivitis, based on cause, are:

  • Viral conjunctivitis. Caused by a virus, like the common cold. This is commonly known as pink eye and is very contagious. It will usually clear up on its own within several days without medical treatment.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis. Caused by bacteria, this type of conjunctivitis can cause serious damage to the eye, if left untreated.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis. Caused by eye irritants such as pollen, dust and animal dander, among susceptible individuals. Allergic conjunctivitis may be seasonal (pollen) or flare up year- round (dust; pet dander).

Conjunctivitis symptoms

Symptoms of conjunctivitis will depend on the type you have:

  • Viral conjunctivitis. (Pink eye) Watery, itchy eyes and sensitivity to light. One or both eyes can be affected. Highly contagious; can be spread by coughing and sneezing.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis A sticky, yellow or greenish-yellow eye discharge in the corner of the eye. In some cases, this discharge can be severe enough to cause the eyelids to stick together when you wake up. One or both eyes can be affected. Contagious usually by direct contact with infected hands or items that have touched the eye.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis. Watery, burning, itchy eyes; often accompanied by stuffy and runny nose and light sensitivity. Both eyes are affected. It is not contagious.

Treatment of conjunctivitis

  • Viral conjunctivitis. (Pink eye) In most cases, viral conjunctivitis will run its course over a period of several days and no medical treatment is required or indicated. A home remedy of applying a cold, wet washcloth to the eyes several times a day can relieve symptoms. (Due to the highly contagious nature of this type of pink eye, be sure not to share this washcloth with others!)
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis. Your eye doctor typically, will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for the treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis. Allergy medications often can help prevent or shorten bouts of allergic conjunctivitis. Sometimes these medications must be started before allergy season or allergy flare-ups begin.

Often, it can be difficult to tell the type of conjunctivitis you have by symptoms alone. Some other eye problems or underlying health conditions may be causing your symptoms. Conditions associated with conjunctivitis include other eye infections, dry eyes and blepharitis. Bacterial conjunctivitis sometimes can lead to very serious eye problems, such as a corneal ulcer, potentially causing permanent vision loss. For these reasons, anytime you develop red, irritated eyes, you should see an optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately.

If you wear contact lenses, remove your lenses and wear only your glasses until your Eye Care Professional, has had a chance to examine your eyes.

Now that you know the basics about viral pink eye and other forms of conjunctivitis, what can you do to protect yourself and your kids from it?

If the problem is contagious pink eye, be considerate of others and do your part to keep the infection from spreading. If your child is affected, tell his or her teacher about the infection so extra steps can be taken to sanitise the classroom or day care center. Keep your child at home until the contagious stage has passed. Your Eye Care Professional can let you know when you or your child can again mingle with others without risk of spreading contagious pink eye, usually about three to five days after the diagnosis.

Remember: Because a red or pink eye can be a symptom of many different types of eye problems (some that can be quite serious), make sure you consult with your Eye Care Professional.

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