What is Pink Eye?
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an eye condition where the conjunctiva – the thin, clear layer lining the white (sclera) of the eye – swells up, causing the eye to appear red. The reddish or pink hue is due to the appearance of inflamed blood vessels in the sclera.
There exist several causes of pink eye, all of which will be discussed below. The term “pink eye” most commonly refers to the viral infection, though it can also be bacterial or allergic in origin.
If you suspect you may have pink eye, call your optometrist right away for prompt treatment. While pink eye is a mild eye emergency, delayed treatment can lead to vision or ocular damage.
The 4 Types of Pink Eye
1. Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a virus and is the most contagious form of the condition. One can easily spread the virus by sneezing or coughing. Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis include watery, itchy, and red eyes along with sensitivity to light (in one or both eyes).This type of pink eye will usually run its course and clear up on its own within a few days without medical treatment. To relieve unpleasant symptoms, apply a cold, wet compress to the affected eye several times a day.
2. Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria and can affect either one or both eyes. Symptoms of a bacterial infection include burning, grittiness and a yellow, sticky discharge in the corner of the eye. Bacterial pink eye is contagious and can spread through direct contact with contaminated hands or items that have been in contact with the affected eye. Treatment for bacterial eye infection is vital because, if left untreated, it can result in severe vision damage. Treatment includes antibiotic eye drops and ointments, which improve conjunctivitis in a matter of 3-5 days.
3. Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by eye allergens or irritants, such as pollen, pet dander, or dust. Symptoms include itchy, watery, or burning eyes, occasionally accompanied by nasal congestion or a runny nose. Since allergic conjunctivitis affects individuals who are sensitive to specific allergens, it is not contagious and always affects both eyes. Allergy medication can help prevent or shorten allergic pink eye flare-ups.
4. Chemical conjunctivitis, a non-contagious form of pink eye, is caused by chemicals that lead the eye(s) to become irritated and swollen. Certain chemical irritants include smoke, chlorine (in a pool), air pollution, fumes, and other non-toxic chemicals. Symptoms include pain, temporarily decreased vision, redness, and swelling. To treat chemical conjunctivitis, you need to thoroughly flush the eye with clean water or a sterile eye irrigating solution to remove any irritating substances from the eye. Once the chemical is removed, you can use lubricating eye drops to soothe the eye and decrease redness.
Tips for Preventing Pink Eye
Contact lens wearers should remove their contacts if redness occurs and refrain from re-inserting them until the eyes fully heal. A visit to the eye doctor will help determine whether your contact lenses are the cause of your conjunctivitis and will advise on how to avoid a recurrence in the future.
Contact your eye doctor at Milwaukee Avenue Eye Center in Niles to determine the root cause and to get the best treatment for your pink eye. This condition tends to be simple to treat and easy to prevent.
Anyone can get conjunctivitis, but these simple precautions can help you dramatically lower your risk.
- Frequently wash your hands with warm water and soap for a minimum of 20 seconds
- Never share items such as makeup, hand towels, washcloths, or eyeglasses
- Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
- Wear goggles when swimming to shield the eyes from microbes and irritants
- Replace contact lenses as directed
- Regularly sanitize household surfaces and handheld devices