Conjunctivitis, also referred to as pink eye, is one of the most frequently seen eye infections, especially with children. Conjunctivitis can be caused by bacteria, viruses or even sensitivities to pollen, ingredients found in cosmetics, and chlorine in swimming pools, or other substances that touch the eyes. Certain forms of pink eye are fairly communicable and rapidly spread in schools and at the home.
Conjunctivitis occurs when the thin clear layer of tissue lining the white part of your eye, or conjunctiva, gets inflamed. A sign that you have the infection is if you notice eye discharge, redness, itching or swollen eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes in the morning. There are three main sub-types of conjunctivitis: allergic, viral and bacterial conjunctivitis.
The viral manifestation is often caused by a similar virus to that which produces the familiar watery and red eyes, runny nose and sore throat of the common cold. The red, watery eyes caused by the viral form of pink eye will often stick around for a week to two and like other viruses does not respond to antibiotics. You may however, be able to alleviate some of the discomfort by using soothing drops or compresses. The viral form of pink eye is contagious until it is completely cleared up, so meanwhile, wipe away eye discharge and try to avoid using communal towels or pillowcases. 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 most often treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment prescribed by your eye doctor. You should notice the symptoms disappearing within just a few days of antibiotic drops, but be sure to finish the entire course of antibiotics to stop conjunctivitis from recurring.
Allergic pink eye is not infectious or contagious. It is usually a result of a sensitivity to pollen, pet dander or smoke that sets off an allergic response in the eyes. The first step in treating allergic conjunctivitis is removing the allergen. Use cool compresses and artificial tears to relieve discomfort in mild cases. In more severe cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. In cases of persistent allergic conjunctivitis, topical steroid eye drops may be prescribed.
With any form pink eye, be sure to maintain good hygiene and sanitary habits. Try not to touch your eyes, and if you do, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and afterwards.
Conjunctivitis should always be diagnosed by an eye care professional to identify the type and proper course of treatment. Don't ever self prescribe! Keep in mind the earlier you start treatment, the less chance you have of giving conjunctivitis to others or suffering longer than you have to.