These are the main symptoms of conjunctivitis, or pink eye, which is the inflammation of the conjunctiva — the clear, thin outer layer of the whites of our eyes and the insides of our eyelids. Luckily, conjunctivitis is both preventable and treatable. For that, it helps to know about the different types and what causes them.
In most cases, when you hear someone talking about pink eye, they mean either the viral or bacterial forms, both of which are contagious. Bacterial conjunctivitis comes with thick, yellow or greenish secretions. If it starts in one eye, it will often spread to the other within a few days, and can spread to other people through direct contact. The treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis is prescribed antibiotics, and it usually clears up quickly.
Viral conjunctivitis tends to involve a lot of watery discharge and last for one to two weeks. Antibiotics won’t help against a viral infection, but a warm compress can relieve some of the swelling and irritation until it goes away on its own. In the meantime, it is even more contagious than bacterial conjunctivitis, spreading in the air through coughing and sneezing.
A third reason your eyes might be red and itchy is a simple allergic reaction. Unlike the viral and bacterial forms of conjunctivitis, this isn’t contagious and can be helped with allergy medication. Giant papillary conjunctivitis is another form of allergy-induced pink eye. It is most likely to affect people who wear hard contact lenses or who don’t replace their soft contact lenses as often as they should.
The conjunctiva can also be irritated by exposure to harsh chemicals, pollution, and even chlorine in swimming pools. People with seasonal allergies are most vulnerable. A sight-threatening version of conjunctivitis, called ophthalmia neonatorum, can affect a newborn if the mother has chlamydia or gonorrhea. It causes scarring on the eye’s surface and eyelid that lead to blindness if not treated.
Preventing a health problem is always easier than treating it. By following these tips, you can help protect your eyes from pink eye, and if you’re a parent of young children, you can help reduce the chance that they will catch it:
If your or your child’s eyes have been red, itchy, and runny with some kind of discharge, come see us. We can determine the cause and whether medication is necessary, so that those eyes can get back to normal as soon as possible.