The Scoop On Pink Eye
Pink eye is one of the most common and treatable eye conditions in children and adults; about 3 million cases of pink eye occur in the United States each year. Treatment is not always needed and the course of treatment depends on the underlying cause.
What is pink eye?
Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, involves inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. The inflammation makes blood vessels more visible, giving the eye a pink or reddish appearance. The affected eye(s) may be painful, itchy or have a burning sensation. The eyes can also tear or have a discharge that forms a crust during sleep causing the eyes to be “stuck shut” in the morning.
What causes pink eye?
Pink eye is most often caused by bacterial or viral infections. Allergic reactions or exposure to irritants can also cause pink eye. Pinpointing the cause may be difficult because the signs and symptoms tend to be similar regardless of the underlying cause.
Viral conjunctivitis is caused by a wide variety of viruses and may also occur along with an upper respiratory tract infection, cold, or sore throat.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by infection of the eye with bacteria such as that from a staph infection, strep throat or pneumonia. It is a common reason for children to stay home sick from day care or school.
Allergic conjunctivitis can be caused by allergies to pollen, dust mites, molds, or animal dander.
Irritants such as contact lenses and lens solutions, chlorine in a swimming pool, smog or cosmetics may also be an underlying cause of conjunctivitis.
What steps can I take to prevent pink eye?
Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious and can be easily spread from person to person. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.
If you or someone around you has infectious (viral or bacterial) conjunctivitis, limit its spread by following these steps:
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.
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.
Frequently clean surfaces such as countertops, bathroom vanities, faucet handles and shared phones with an appropriate antiseptic cleaner.
If you know you suffer from seasonal allergies, ask your doctor what can be done to minimize your symptoms before they begin.
When swimming, wear swim goggles to protect yourself from bacteria and other micro-organisms in the water that can cause conjunctivitis.
Before showering, using a hot tub or being in water of any kind, remove your contact lenses to avoid trapping bacteria between your eyes and the lenses.
There are also steps you can take to avoid re-infection once the infection goes away:
Throw away any eye or face makeup or applicators you used while infected.
Discard contact lens solutions you used while infected.
Dispose of contact lenses and cases you used.
Clean your eyeglasses and cases.