Conjunctivitis, also called pink eye, is a common eye infection, especially when it comes to kids. Conjunctivitis can be caused by a virus, bacteria or allergies to ingredients found in cosmetics, chlorine in pools, and pollen, or other products that penetrate your eyes. Certain kinds of conjunctivitis are very contagious and easily go around in schools and at the office or home.
Pink eye ensues when the thin clear layer of tissue that covers the white part of the eye, or conjunctiva, becomes inflamed. A good clue that you have the infection is if you notice eye discharge, itching, redness or inflamed eyelids and crusty eyes in the morning. The three main kinds of conjunctivitis are: bacterial, viral and allergic conjunctivitis.
The viral type is usually a result of a similar virus to that which produces the familiar watery and red eyes, runny nose and sore throat of the common cold. The red, itchy, watery eyes caused by viral conjunctivitis can last from seven to fourteen days and then will clear up on their own. You may however, be able to relieve some of the discomfort by applying soothing drops or compresses. Viral conjunctivitis is contagious until it is completely cleared up, so meanwhile, maintain excellent hygiene, remove discharge and try to avoid sharing pillowcases or towels. If your child has viral conjunctivitis, he or she will have to stay home from school for three days to a week until it clears up.
The bacterial form which is caused by infections such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus is commonly treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. Most often you should notice an improvement within just a few days of antibiotic drops, but always make sure to take the entire course of antibiotics to prevent conjunctivitis from returning.
Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious or infectious. It usually occurs among individuals who already have seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The allergic symptoms in the eyes may be just part of their overall allergic response. The first step in treating conjunctivitis that is a result of allergies is to remove or avoid the allergen, when applicable. For mild cases, cool compresses and artificial tears may help. When the infection is more severe, your optometrist might give you a prescription for an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. In cases of lasting allergic infections, topical steroid eye drops may be tried.
Even though pink eye is often a highly treatable eye infection, it can sometimes evolve into a more threatening condition. If you have signs of conjunctivitis, be sure to visit your optometrist so he or she can determine how to best to treat it.