What causes conjunctivitis? 4 possible conditions
Conjunctivitis, which is commonly called “pink eye,” is an infection or swelling in the eye area. Blood vessels in the conjunctiva, a thin membrane that lines part of the eye, become inflamed. This gives the eye a red or pink color that’s commonly associated with conjunctivitis.
The most common causes of pink eye are:
Virus or Bacteria
Bacterial conjunctivitis is most often caused by the same type of bacteria that causes strep throat and staph infections. Conjunctivitis from a virus, on the other hand, is usually the result of one of the viruses that cause the common cold. Whatever the cause, however, pink eye is considered highly contagious, and can spread from one person to another quite easily by hand contact.
Allergens like pollen can cause pink eye in one or both eyes. They stimulate the body to create more histamines which cause inflammation as a part of the body’s response to what it thinks is an infection. This, in turn, causes allergic conjunctivitis.
You also need to be careful if a foreign substance or chemical splashes into your eyes. Chemicals like chlorine found in backyard swimming pools can cause conjunctivitis. Rinsing your eyes with water is a simple and effective way to keep a chemical irritant from causing pink eye.
Since bacterial or viral conjunctivitis is very contagious, it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms. The condition can be passed along to others up to two weeks after it develops. Talk with your doctor about treatment if you experience:
- pink or red toned eyes
- a gritty feeling in the eyes
- watery or thick discharge that builds up on the eye at night
- abnormal amount of tears
Diagnosis of pink eye is not difficult. Your doctor will be able to tell if you have pink eye simply by asking you a few questions and looking at your eye. If necessary, he might take a fluid (tear) sample from the conjunctiva and send it to a lab for further analysis.
Treatment of conjunctivitis depends on what caused it. If your pink eye is the result of a chemical irritant, there’s a good chance that it will go away on its own in a few days. If it’s the result of a bacteria, virus, or allergen, there are a few treatment options. Such as:
For a bacterial infection, antibiotics are the most common method of treatment. Adults usually prefer eye drops. For children, however, an ointment might be a better choice since it’s easier to apply. With the use of antibiotic medication your symptoms usually start to disappear in just a few days.
Unfortunately, if you have viral conjunctivitis there is no treatment available. Just like the common cold, there are no cures for a virus. In other words, your symptoms will go away in a 7 to ten days after the virus has run its course. In the meantime, using a warm compress, or cloth moistened with warm water, can help soothe your symptoms.
To treat conjunctivitis caused by an allergen, your doctor will probably prescribe an antihistamine to stop the inflammation. Antihistamines like Claritin and Benadryl are over-the-counter medications that may effectively help allergy sufferers.
General Things to Do
In addition to using a compress, you can purchase eye drops at your local drug store that mimic your own tears. This will help relieve your conjunctivitis symptoms. It might also be a good idea to stop wearing contact lenses until your case of pink eye completely clears up.
Practicing good hygiene is one of the best ways to keep from getting and spreading conjunctivitis. Make sure that you don’t share your cosmetics with other people, especially eyeliner or mascara. And try to avoid touching your eyes with your hands without washing them thoroughly first. It might also be a good idea to wash and change your pillowcases frequently.
Preventing the Spread of Pink Eye
If you already have pink eye you can help keep your friends and family safe by not sharing towels or washcloths with them. If your child has pink eye it’s a good idea to keep them out of school for at least 24 hours after treatment has started to keep them from spreading pink eye to others.
- Conjunctivitis - PubMed Health (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved May 4, 2012 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002005/
- Conjunctivitis | American Optometric Association (n.d.). American Optometric Association - Serving Doctors of Optometry & Their Patients. Retrieved May 4, 2012 from http://www.aoa.org/x4720.xml
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis) - MayoClinic.com (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 4, 2012 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pink-eye/DS00258
- Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis) (n.d.). KidsHealth - the Web’s most visited site about children’s health. Retrieved May 4, 2012 from http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/eye/conjunctivitis.html
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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