Pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, is an inflammation or infection of the clear covering of the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids (conjunctiva). Anything that triggers inflammation can cause the small blood vessels in the conjunctiva to dilate. This is what causes the whites of the eyes to appear reddish (bloodshot) or pink.
Pink eye is commonly caused by a bacterial or viral infection, however, it is not posed as a serious health risk if diagnosed properly. Since pink eye can be contagious, treatment options typically involve taking antibiotics to ease discomfort and prevent spreading of the infection.
The most common signs and symptoms of pink eye include:
· Redness in the white of the eye
· Itchy eyes
· Burning eyes
· Tearing of the eyes
· Thick yellow discharge in one or both eyes that forms a crust during the night
· Increased sensitivity to light
· Possible blurred vision
Pink eye has a number of causes. The primary types of conjunctivitis based on the cause include:
· Viral conjunctivitis: Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a virus, such as a common cold and usually produces a watery discharge and is contagious.
· Bacterial conjunctivitis: Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria and often produces a thicker, yellow-green discharge and is contagious.
· Allergic conjunctivitis: Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by eye irritants such as pollen or dust.
Irritation from a chemicals, air pollutants or foreign object entering the eye is also related to conjunctivitis. Sometimes, when an individual tries to rid the eye of the chemical or object, he or she can end up irritating it and cause redness. Signs and symptoms, which may include watery eyes and a mucous discharge, usually clear up on their own within about a day.
Factors that increase the risk of developing pink eye include the following:
· Exposure to allergic reactants/irritants
· Exposure to an individual infected with the viral or bacterial form of conjunctivitis
· Using contact lenses, especially for a longer period of time
Certain forms of conjunctivitis can cause cornea scarring and vision impairment. These complications can arise from pink eye inflammation and they can occur in both children and adults. Proper medical attention and care is crucial for recovery.
Treatment options for pink eye depend on the type of conjunctivitis an individual has.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis: if the infection is bacterial, a doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops to ensure clearing of the infection and symptoms. An ointment is often easier to administer to an infant or young child. With either form of medication, signs and symptoms of pink eye should start to clear up within a few days.
- Viral conjunctivitis: in most cases of viral conjunctivitis, there is no treatment is necessary. Only a period of time from 2-3 is required to clear up symptoms. Antiviral medications may be an option if the doctor determines that the viral conjunctivitis is caused by the herpes simplex virus.
- Allergic conjunctivitis: if the irritation is allergic conjunctivitis, a doctor may prescribe different types of eye drops for individuals with allergies (such as antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers, anti-inflammatory drops, and others)
The key to preventing pink eye is practicing good hygiene. A few recommendations to help control the spreading of pink eye include:
- Washing hands frequently
- Avoiding touching the eyes with dirty hands
- Using a clean towel and washcloth daily
- Changing pillowcases often
- Avoiding sharing eye cosmetics/personal eye care items
- Throwing away cosmetics past their expiration date, such as mascara
- Never share contact lenses
- Clean surfaces such as countertops, faucet handles and home phones with antiseptic cleaner.