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Pink Eye | Signs Symptoms | Treatment

A pink eye, technically called conjunctivitis, is the inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the outer layer covering the eye. It is a very common eye disorder that has several causes. There are also different types of pink eye with different symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Pink Eye

  • A pink eye

  • Itching, burning, stinging, irritation, scratchiness, pain

  • Light sensitivity

Not all forms of pink eye are contagious. Pink eye caused by allergens like pollen, dust, smoke etc. are not contagious. Pink eye caused by bacterial or viral infections are highly contagious. These can be spread by coughing, sneezing, shared towels, counter tops and bathrooms.

Pink eye can occur in adults but is more common in children where it is spread rapidly in schools and day care centers. Extra precautions need to be taken in these environments, like frequent hand washing and the use of disinfectant sprays. It is important to educate teachers and scholars about pink eye and the necessary precautions.

Causes of Pink Eye

The way your eyes look and feel will give some indication as to the type of pink eye (conjunctivitis) you have

Allergic conjunctivitis – causes itching, redness and tearing in both eyes. You may also have a runny nose and scratchy throat.

Bacterial conjunctivitis – usually begins in one eye and then affects the other. There is intense mucous discharge form the eye. The eyelids are a little sticky in the morning on awakening. You may have crusting on the eyelids.

Viral conjunctivitis – usually only affects one eye with a watery discharge.

Who is at Risk?

A pink eye can affect anyone but is more common in children as they have more colds and respiratory tract infections which can be the underlying cause.

New born babies are also at risk as they can pick up bacterial infections from the mother during the birth process. A mother who is infected with a sexually transmitted disease like chlamydia or gonorrhea can pass this on to the baby which may show up as pink eye. In these cases antibiotic treatment needs to be given immediately to prevent serious eye damage.

Contact lens wearers are at risk of developing pink eye caused by poor hygiene and over wearing contact lenses.

Can Pink Eye cause Vision Loss?

Most types of pink eye are not serious and are not sight threatening if dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner. However, if you have persistent conjunctivitis, it could be due to a more serious underlying cause that needs to be diagnosed by your doctor.

If untreated, certain types of bacterial conjunctivitis can cause scarring which can permanently affect your vision. In extreme cases of untreated conjunctivitis, the eye may need to be removed as infection spreads to the inside of the eye. This is very rare.

Pink Eye Treatment

Treatment options vary depending on the type of pink eye you have. Antibiotic eye drops may help with bacterial infection but not with viral infections.

Viral conjunctivitis is commonly not treated as it should clear up on its own within a couple of weeks. Artificial tears normally give some relief to the discomfort.

For allergic conjunctivitis, artificial tears may help dilute some of the allergen particles in your tear film. Antihistamine tablets or eye drops provide great relief from symptoms.

For all types of conjunctivitis, warm compressions on the eyes and lubricating eye drops may help the eyes feel better.

Preventing Pink Eye

Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are caused by airborne sources. So you should try to avoid sharing towels, washcloths etc. in a public environment.

Never share eye drops, eyeliner or mascara. If you have pink eye, discard these items to prevent re-infection.

Never, ever share contact lenses!!

Wash your hands frequently.

For allergic conjunctivitis:

Dust and vacuum often to remove dust and allergens from the home.

Keep windows and doors closed when the pollen count is high.

Stay in a well ventilated area if you are exposed to smoke and fumes.

For contact lens wearers:

  • Always stick to the wearing and cleaning schedule given by your optometrist.
  • Avoid swimming, bathing or entering a hot tub while wearing your contact lenses. If you do, discard the lenses as soon as possible.
  • If you have pink eye, do not wear your contact lenses until your eye has fully recovered.
  • Change your solution daily.

  • Never share colour contact lenses with your friends.

Remember, pink eye/conjunctivitis is a minor eye infection, but it can sometimes develop into something serious. Because you have no idea of the type of pink eye you have, always consult your optometrist or ophthalmologist before using any eye drop.

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