Conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin clear tissue that lies over the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid.
Several things could be to blame, including:
- Viruses, including the kind that causes the common cold
- Irritants such as shampoos, dirt, smoke, and pool chlorine
- A reaction to eye drops
- An allergic reaction to things like pollen, dust, or smoke. Or it could be due to a special type of allergy that affects some people who wear contact lenses.
- Fungi, amoebas, and parasites
People with conjunctivitis may experience the following symptoms:
- A gritty feeling in one or both eyes
- Itching or burning sensation in one or both eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Discharge from one or both eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Pink discoloration to the whites of one or both eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
Other symptoms of pink eye depend on the type of conjunctivitis:
- Viral conjunctivitis symptoms include watery, itchy eyes or sensitivity to light. One or both eyes can be affected. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can be spread by coughing and sneezing.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis symptoms include 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. Bacterial conjunctivitis is contagious, usually by direct contact with infected hands or items that have touched the eye.
- Allergic conjunctivitis symptoms include watery, burning, itchy eyes and are often accompanied by stuffiness and a runny nose, and sensitivity to light. Allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes, but this type of pink eye is not contagious.
As you would expect, the treatment of pink eye depends on the type of conjunctivitis you have:
- Viral conjunctivitis treatment In most cases, viral conjunctivitis will run its course over a period of several days and no medical treatment is required. Applying a cold, wet washcloth to the eyes several times a day can relieve symptoms of viral conjunctivitis.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis treatment Your eye doctor typically will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for the treatment of bacterial conjunctivitis.
- Allergic conjunctivitis treatment Allergy medications often can help prevent or shorten bouts of allergic conjunctivitis.
Often it can be difficult to tell the type of conjunctivitis you have by symptoms alone (or if some other eye or health conditions are causing your symptoms).
Conditions associated with conjunctivitis include dry eyes. Also, bacterial conjunctivitis sometimes can lead to very serious eye problems potentially causing permanent vision loss.
For these reasons, anytime you develop red, irritated eyes, you should call your eye doctor immediately and schedule an eye exam.
If you wear contact lenses and have red, irritated eyes, remove your lenses and wear only your spectacles until your eye doctor has had a chance to examine your eyes.
9 pink eye prevention tips
Now that you know the basics about viral pink eye and other forms of conjunctivitis, what can you do to protect yourself and your kids from it?
Here are nine simple precautions you can take to significantly reduce your risk of getting pink eye:
- 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 sanitizer nearby and use it frequently.
- Frequently clean surfaces such as countertops, bathroom surfaces, faucet handles and shared phones with an antiseptic cleaner.
- If you know you suffer from seasonal allergies, ask your doctor what can be done to minimize your symptoms before they begin.
- If you wear contact lenses, follow your eye doctor's instructions for lens care and replacement, and use contact lens solutions properly or consider switching to daily disposable contact lenses.
- When swimming, wear swim goggles to protect yourself from bacteria and other microorganisms in the water that can cause conjunctivitis.
- Before showering, remove your contact lenses to avoid trapping bacteria between your eyes and the lenses.