Conjunctivitis, commonly known as “pink eye,”
is an infection or swelling in the outer membrane of your eyeball. Blood
vessels in your conjunctiva, a thin membrane that lines part of your eye,
become inflamed. This gives your eye the red or pink color that’s commonly
associated with conjunctivitis.
Symptoms of 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
- gritty feeling in your eyes
- watery or thick discharge that
builds up on your eyes at night
- itchiness in your eyes
- abnormal amount of tears
What Causes Pink Eye?
The most common causes of pink eye are:
Viruses or Bacteria
Bacterial conjunctivitis is most often caused
by the same type of bacteria that cause 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, viral and bacterial
pink eye is considered highly contagious. It can spread from one person to
another quite easily by hand contact.
Allergens, such as pollen, can cause pink eye
in one or both of your eyes. They stimulate your body to create more histamines,
which cause inflammation as a part of your body’s response to what it thinks is
an infection. In turn, this causes allergic conjunctivitis. Allergic
conjunctivitis is usually itchy.
You also need to be careful if a foreign
substance or chemical splashes into your eyes. Chemicals such as 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.
How Is Pink Eye Diagnosed?
It’s not hard for your doctor to diagnose
pink eye. Your doctor will be able to tell if you have pink eye simply by
asking you a few questions and looking at your eyes. If necessary, they might
take a tear or fluid sample from your conjunctiva and send it to a lab for
Treatment for Pink Eye
Treatment of conjunctivitis depends on what’s
causing it. If your pink eye is the result of a chemical irritant, there’s a
good chance it will go away on its own in a few days. If it’s the result of a
bacterium, virus, or allergen, there are a few treatment options.
For a bacterial infection, antibiotics are
the most common method of treatment. Adults usually prefer eye drops. For
children, however, ointment might be a better choice because it’s easier to
apply. With the use of antibiotic medication, your symptoms will probably start
to disappear in just a few days.
Unfortunately, if you have viral
conjunctivitis, there’s no treatment available. Just like the common cold,
there are no cures for a virus. Your symptoms will probably go away on their
own in seven to 10 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
To treat conjunctivitis caused by an
allergen, your doctor will probably prescribe an antihistamine to stop the
inflammation. Loratadine (e.g., Claritin) and diphenhydramine (e.g., Benadryl)
are antihistamines that are available in over-the-counter medications. They may
help clear your allergic symptoms, including allergic conjunctivitis. Other
treatments include antihistamine eyedrops or anti-inflammatory eyedrops.
General Things to Do
In addition to using a warm compress, you can
also purchase eye drops at your local drugstore that mimic your own tears. They
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.
How You Can Prevent Conjunctivitis?
Practicing good hygiene is one of the best
ways to avoid and stop the spread of conjunctivitis. Try to avoid touching your
eyes with your hands, and wash your hands thoroughly and often. Only use clean
tissues and towels to wipe your face and eyes. Make sure that you don’t share
your cosmetics, especially eyeliner or mascara, with other people. It’s also a
good idea to wash and change your pillowcases frequently.
If your doctor thinks that your contact
lenses are contributing to your pink eye, they may recommend switching to
another type of contact lens or disinfection solution. They may suggest
cleaning or replacing your contact lenses more frequently, or that you stop
wearing contact lenses indefinitely (or at least until your eye heals). Avoiding
poorly fitted contact lenses and decorative contact lenses may also decrease your
risk of pink eye.
Preventing the Spread of Pink Eye
If you already have pink eye, you can help
keep your friends and family safe by washing your hands regularly and not
sharing towels or washcloths with them. You should change your towel and
washcloth daily, replace your eye cosmetics after your infection clears, and
follow your doctor’s advice on contact lens care.
If your child has pink eye, it’s a good idea
to keep them out of school for at least 24 hours after they start treatment to
keep them from spreading pink eye to others.