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Home » News and Events » Understanding Conjunctivitis

Understanding Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, informally referred to as pink eye, is a common eye illness, particularly with kids. Pink eye can be caused by bacteria, a virus or allergies to pollen, ingredients in cosmetics, and chlorine in swimming pools, or other substances that come in contact with the eyes. Many forms of pink eye can be quite contagious and swiftly go around at schools and in the office.

Pink eye is seen when the thin clear layer of tissue that protects the white part of your eye, or conjunctiva, gets inflamed. You can identify the infection if you notice eye discharge, redness, itching or inflamed eyelids and crusty eyes early in the day. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. There are three main types of conjunctivitis: viral, allergic and bacterial conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis is usually caused by a similar virus to that which makes us have those recognizable red, watery eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. The uncomfortable symptoms of viral conjunctivitis can be present for seven to fourteen days and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. You may however, be able to alleviate some of the symptoms by applying soothing drops or compresses. The viral form of conjunctivitis is contagious until it is completely cleared up, so in the meantime practice excellent hygiene, remove any discharge and avoid sharing pillowcases or towels. Children who have viral pink eye will need to be kept home for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by a common bacterial infection that gets into the eye typically from an external object touching the eye that carries the bacteria, such as a dirty finger. This type of pink eye is most commonly treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. You should notice the symptoms disappearing after just a few days of antibiotic drops, but make sure to follow the full antibiotic prescription to prevent the infection from recurring.

Allergic pink eye is not contagious. It is usually a result of a known allergy such as pollen, pet dander or smoke that triggers an allergic response in their eyes. The first step in treating conjunctivitis that is a result of allergies is to eliminate or avoid the irritant, if possible. Use cool compresses and artificial tears to alleviate discomfort in mild cases. When the infection is more severe, your optometrist may decide to give you a prescription for an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. When the infection persists for a long time, steroid eye drops could be used.

Conjunctivitis should always be diagnosed by an experienced eye doctor in order to determine the cause and proper course of treatment. Don't ever self prescribe! Remember the sooner you begin treatment, the lower chance you have of spreading conjunctivitis to loved ones or suffering unnecessarily.