Also known as conjunctivitis, pink eye is a very common eye condition affecting children and adults alike. Research estimates that between three and six million cases of pink eye occur in the United States every year. While it can cause irritation, discomfort, and be inconvenient, it is easily treated and rarely requires the sufferer to make any adjustments to their day to day lives. Nevertheless, it’s important to seek the advice of your eye doctor to ensure that you get the right treatment in place as soon as possible.
Pink eye is characterized by the inflammation of the conjunctiva. This is the thin, transparent tissue that covers the white of the eye (the sclera) and lines the inside of the eyelids. The conjunctiva protects the eye from harmful microorganisms and plays an important role in immune function. It also provides lubrication through mucus and tear film.
One of the most common concerns that people have about pink eye is whether they can catch it. There are different types of pink eye, and while they aren’t all transmissible, some are highly contagious. The most contagious varieties of pink eye are those caused by viruses and bacteria. This makes the condition particularly rife in places like kindergartens and schools, where there are lots of touchpoints and handwashing isn’t always robust and regular among the children. Some types of pink eye can also be spread through unprotected sex.
There are a variety of causes of pink eye. These include, but aren’t limited to:
Viruses, such as that which causes the common cold
Contact with irritants, such as shampoo, dirt, smoke, and pool chlorine
A reaction to eyedrops
An allergic reaction to an allergen such as pollen, smoke, or dust
An allergy to your contact lenses
Fungi, amoebas, or parasites
A sexually transmitted disease, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea
Your eye doctor will try and uncover the underlying cause of your pink eye as this may affect which treatment will be most effective.
Viral conjunctivitis is the most common form of the condition. It normally starts causing symptoms in one eye, and within a few days these will also start to affect the other eye. Symptoms include:
Eyes that appear pink, red, or bloodshot
Burning, gritty pain, or discomfort
Crustiness around the eyelids, particularly first thing in the morning
Watery discharge from the eye
A small amount of mucus around the eye
Sensitivity to bright light
Swollen lymph node in front of your eye or under your jaw
Viral conjunctivitis is most often caused by the virus that is responsible for the common cough/cold and so many patients with this type of pink eye also experience a runny nose, sore throat, and cough at the same time as the symptoms listed above.
You’ll notice many similarities between the symptoms of viral and bacterial pink eye. If your pink eye is caused by bacteria, you may experience:
Pinkness or redness of the eye
Burning, itching, and other mild discomfort
Thick, sticky discharge from the eye that is white or yellow and can stick the eyelids together in the morning
Swollen and/or red eyelids
Unsurprisingly, the symptoms of pink eye that is caused by an allergy to something you have come into contact with are similar or identical to conventional allergy symptoms. They may include excessive watering of the eyes, itching and redness, as well as an itchy and/or runny nose.
The treatment that your eye doctor recommends will primarily depend on what they believe to be the underlying cause of your pink eye. For example:
In the case of viral conjunctivitis, most patients are advised to watch and wait. This is because the condition usually resolves itself within 7-10 days without any medical intervention. In many cases, an anti-inflammatory drop may be prescribed to help provide relief while the body fights off the virus. Nevertheless, you will be advised to be extra vigilant with your hand hygiene to minimize the risk of passing it to other people you come into contact with.
Cleaning the eyes with water and a clean sterile cotton pad (a different one should be used for each eye), along with warm or cool compresses and artificial eyedrops to help lubricate your eyes can provide relief from your symptoms.
For bacterial pink eye, antibiotics (which aren’t effective in treating viral pink eye) are usually prescribed and should be used exactly as directed. These antibiotics may be in the form of eyedrops, or an oral treatment may be recommended for more severe cases.
The best way to treat allergic conjunctivitis is to limit your contact with the allergen if you can. However, antihistamines can also provide valuable relief from your symptoms, along with artificial tears which will help to flush out allergens and keep your eyes lubricated.
If you would like more information about pink eye, or to discuss your concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly and knowledgeable team at Seabert Eye Care in Burleson, Texas by calling (817) 857-8700 today.