Pink Eye

Eye Condition


Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is inflammation of the thin, transparent membrane of blood vessels over the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids (conjunctiva). It is a common eye problem typically is easily treated and, with a few simple precautions, can often be avoided.

Anything that triggers inflammation will cause these conjunctival blood vessels to dilate resulting in red, bloodshot eyes.

Causes

Conjunctivitis can have several causes, but many eye doctors use the term "pink eye" to refer only to viral conjunctivitis, a highly contagious infection caused by a variety of viruses.

Virus: Like the common cold, this type of pink eye is very contagious, but usually will clear up on its own within several days without medical treatment.

Bacteria: This type of conjunctivitis can cause serious damage to the eye if left untreated. Gonococcal and chlamydial conjunctivitis are bacterial forms related to infections from sexually transmitted diseases including gonorrhea and chlamydia. Newborn babies may be exposed when they pass through the birth canal of an infected mother. Trachoma is a form of chlamydial infection that causes scarring on the eye's surface. Trachoma is the world's leading cause of preventable blindness.

Allergens: Eye irritants such as pollen, dust and animal dander among susceptible individuals are common causes of allergic conjunctivitis. Allergic conjunctivitis may be seasonal (pollen) or flare up year-round (dust; pet dander). Other irritants may include makeup, face cream/lotion, eye drops, contact lenses, etc.

Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) usually involves both eyes and often affects soft contact lens wearers. This condition may cause contact lens intolerance, itching, a heavy discharge, tearing and red bumps on the underside of the eyelids.

You'll need to stop wearing your contact lenses, at least for a little while. Your eye doctor may also recommend that you switch to a different type of contact lens, to reduce the chance of the conjunctivitis coming back.

For example, you might need to switch from soft contacts to gas permeable ones or vice versa. Or you might need to try a type of lens that you replace more frequently, such as disposable contact lenses. GPC can also result from artificial eyes (prosthetics), stitches and more. Your eye doctor will decide if removal is appropriate.

Symptoms

Viral conjunctivitis. Watery, itchy eyes, swollen lides; sensitivity to light. One or both eyes can be affected. Highly contagious; can be spread by coughing and sneezing.

Bacterial conjunctivitis. A sticky, yellow or greenish-yellow eye discharge in the corner of the eye. In some cases, this discharge can be severe enough to cause the eyelids to be stuck together when you wake up. One or both eyes can be affected. Contagious (usually by direct contact with infected hands or items that have touched the eye).

Allergic conjunctivitis. Watery, burning, itchy eyes; often accompanied by stuffiness and a runny nose, and light sensitivity. Both eyes are affected. Not contagious.

Treatment

Viral conjunctivitis. In most cases, viral conjunctivitis will run its course over a period of several days and no medical treatment is required or indicated. A home remedy of applying a cold, wet washcloth to the eyes several times a day can relieve symptoms. (Due to the highly contagious nature of this type of pink eye, be sure not to share this washcloth with others!)

Bacterial conjunctivitis. Your eye doctor typically will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for the treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis.

Allergic conjunctivitis. Allergy medications often can help prevent or shorten bouts of allergic conjunctivitis. Sometimes these medications must be started before allergy season or allergy flare-ups begin. Ask your doctor for details.

Often it can be difficult to tell the type of conjunctivitis you have by symptoms alone (or if some other eye problems or underlying health conditions are causing your symptoms).

Conditions associated with conjunctivitis include other eye infections, dry eyes and blepharitis. Also, bacterial conjunctivitis sometimes can lead to very serious eye problems such as a corneal ulcer, potentially causing permanent vision loss.

For these reasons, anytime you develop red, irritated eyes, you should call your optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately and schedule an eye exam.

Also, if you wear contact lenses, remove your lenses and wear only your glasses until your eye doctor has had a chance to examine your eyes.

Prevention

Anyone can get pink eye, but preschoolers, schoolchildren, college students, teachers and daycare workers are particularly at risk for the contagious types of pink eye due to their close proximity with others in the classroom.

Never share personal items such as washcloths, hand towels or tissues.

Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and avoid rubbing or touching your eyes.

Never (EVER) share your color contact lenses or special effect contacts with friends.

Wash your hands frequently, especially when spending time at school or in other public places.

Keep a hand disinfectant (e.g., Purell) handy and use it frequently.

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