Conjunctivitis, is an inflammation of the transparent membrane (or conjunctiva) that covers the front part of the eye and underside of the eyelids. Pink eye is generally the term used when this inflammation is caused by certain types of bacteria. It is a common condition that is usually minor; however it is uncomfortable and when caused by an infection, can be highly contagious.
What Causes Pink Eye?
Pink eye can come from many causes, but it generally is the result of a bacterial or viral infection. In some cases, it may come from allergies, environmental chemicals, or passed on from a mother to child during childbirth. In any case, the underlying cause of pink eye will determine the course of treatment.
Symptoms of Pink Eye
Pink eye is named after its primary symptom: when the white part of the eye appears either pink or red. An eye care professional can determine the presence and cause of pink eye through an examination of the conjunctiva and surrounding area.
Aside from its trademark pink coloration, other telltale signs of pink eye include:
- Feeling of foreign objects in one or both eyes
- Itching or burning in one or both eyes
- Yellowish discharge from one or both eyes
- Excess tearing from one or both eyes
- Build-up or crusting overnight that makes it difficult to open your eyes
- Swollen eyelids
Your doctor will determine the exact cause of why your eyes look pink based on your symptoms and how they originated.
Pink eye treatments
As you would expect, the treatment of pink eye depends on the type of conjunctivitis you have:
- Viral conjunctivitis treatment In most cases, viral conjunctivitis will run its course over a period of several days and no medical treatment is required. Applying a cold, wet washcloth to the eyes several times a day can relieve symptoms of viral conjunctivitis.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis treatment Your eye doctor typically will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for the treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis.
- Allergic conjunctivitis treatment Allergy medications often can help prevent or shorten bouts of allergic conjunctivitis.
Often it can be difficult to tell the type of conjunctivitis you have by symptoms alone. Also, sometimes other eye or health conditions may be causing your pink eye symptoms.
Conditions associated with conjunctivitis include dry eyes. Also, bacterial conjunctivitis sometimes can lead to very serious eye problems potentially causing permanent vision loss.
For these reasons, anytime you develop red, irritated eyes, you should call an eye doctor immediately and schedule an eye exam.
If you wear contact lenses and have red, irritated eyes, remove your lenses and wear only your spectacles until your eye doctor has had a chance to examine your eyes.
10 pink eye prevention tips
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 getting pink eye?
Here are 10 precautions you can take to significantly reduce your risk of getting pink eye:
- Never share personal items such as washcloths, hand towels or tissues.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially when spending time at school or in other public places.
- Keep a hand sanitizer nearby and use it frequently.
- Frequently clean surfaces such as countertops, bathroom surfaces, faucet handles and shared phones with an antiseptic cleaner.
- If you know you suffer from seasonal allergies, ask your doctor what can be done to minimize your symptoms before they begin.
- If you wear contact lenses, follow your eye doctor’s instructions for lens care and replacement, and use contact lens solutions properly or consider switching to daily disposable contact lenses.
- When swimming, wear swim goggles to protect yourself from bacteria and other microorganisms in the water that can cause conjunctivitis.
- Before showering, remove your contact lenses to avoid trapping bacteria between your eyes and the lenses.
Wash your hands often, to keep viral pink eye from spreading.
Despite these precautions, you or your child still may develop pink eye.
If your child has conjunctivitis, tell his or her teacher about the infection so extra steps can be taken to sanitize the classroom or day care center. Also, keep your child home until the contagious stage has passed.
Your eye doctor will let you know when you or your child can be around others without risk of spreading contagious pink eye — usually about three to five days after the diagnosis.
A red or pink eye sometimes can be a sign of a serious eye problem. For an accurate diagnosis and the most effective treatment, see your eye doctor if you develop a red, irritated eye.