Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is characterized by redness and swelling of the conjunctiva and is one of the most widespread types of eye inflammations. Medically speaking the conjunctiva is the clear mucous membrane that lines the surface of the eyeball and eyelid. When conjunctivitis is contracted, the blood vessels become engorged and the eye appears reddish-pink; thusly it derives the name ‘pink eye.’
Pink eye is characterized by multiple symptoms, which depend upon the source of the inflammation. The most common among them are as follows:
- Redness and swelling of the conjunctiva covering the eyeball or eyelid (this is the most common symptom).
- Itching and burning sensation.
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light).
- Crustiness of the lids and lashes.
- Discharge from the eye (clear, yellow, white, or green).
- A feeling of grit or sand in the eye.
In treating pink eye it is important to identify the cause of inflammation because some cases of pink eye are mild and will resolve without treatment, while others may require a visit to the eye doctor. Finding relief is dependent on the cause.
Pink eye is typically caused by one of the following:
- Virus – Most often this form of pink eye is a result of viruses associated with upper respiratory infections, like sore throats or colds, but can also be a side effect of other viruses from various parts of the body. Viral pink eye or conjunctivitis typically lasts from one to three weeks and is extremely contagious.
- Bacteria – This form of pink eye is caused by infection of the conjunctiva by bacteria. It’s typically present in one eye at first, and then spreads to the other. Bacterial pink eye is usually mild, but contagious. It may last a few days or a few weeks. Though it can resolve on its own, recovery is often aided by the use of prescribed topical antibiotics.
- Irritants and Chemicals – This type of pink eye is a result of chemical contact, air pollution or noxious fumes that irritate the conjunctival membrane. One of the most common causes of chemical pink eye is swimming pool chlorine, but it also occurs amongst those in construction and manufacturing environments. This form of pink eye is not contagious and is treated by a thorough cleansing of the eye with sterile eyewash.
- Allergens – This is pink eye caused by an allergic reaction to pollen, dust mites, animal dander, contact lenses, solutions, makeup, molds, medications and so on. It’s present in both eyes and may occur seasonally or year-round. Allergic conjunctivitis or pink eye improves when the allergens are removed or allergy medications are administered. This specific form of pink eye is not contagious.
Since viral and bacterial pink eye conditions are contagious, it is important to stop the spread and reduce the risk by always washing hands thoroughly. Similarly, avoid sharing towels, washcloths, eye drops, makeup applicators, contact lens cases and any other belongings that may carry the infection. It is also important to avoid constantly touching your eyes. Further, try daily disposable lenses – like Acuvue 1-Day Moist, Proclear One Day or Dailies AquaComfort Plus contacts – to cut out the risk of infection from foreign contact lens solutions.
Call Your Doctor If…
You should seek medical advice if your pink eye symptoms are accompanied by moderate to severe eye pain, blurred vision, severe sensitivity to light, intense redness or an unimproved condition, even after proper home treatment. A proper diagnosis will get you the help you need to resolve the pink eye and keep your eyes healthy and strong.