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Optometric Insight: Pink Eye

Pink eye, formally referred to as conjunctivitis, is one of the most frequently encountered eye infections, especially with children. This infection can be caused by a virus, bacteria or allergies to pollen, chlorine in pools, and ingredients found in cosmetics, or other irritants that touch your eyes. Certain types of pink eye can be very contagious and quickly infect many people in close proximity such as at schools and in the home or office.

Pink eye ensues when the conjunctiva, or thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the white part of the eye, becomes inflamed. You'll be able to recognize conjunctivitis if you notice eye discharge, itching, redness or swollen eyelids and crusty eyes early in the day. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. There are three basic subtypes of pink eye: bacterial, viral and allergic conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis is usually caused by the same viruses that are the source of the familiar red and watery eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. Symptoms of the viral form of conjunctivitis can last from a week to two and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. You may however, be able to relieve some of the symptoms by using soothing drops or compresses. Viral pink eye is contagious until it's gone, so meanwhile, maintain excellent hygiene, remove discharge and try to avoid sharing pillowcases or towels. If your child has viral pink eye, he or she will have to be kept home from school for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.

Bacterial pink eye is caused by a common bacterial infection that enters the eye usually from a foreign carrier such as a finger, makeup or lotion. This type of pink eye is most commonly treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. You should see an improvement within just a few days of antibiotic drops, but always make sure to take the entire course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from returning.

Allergic pink eye is not contagious or infectious. It occurs more commonly in those who already have seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The allergic symptoms in the eyes may be just one aspect of a larger allergic reaction. First of all, to treat allergic pink eye, you should remove the allergen. Try cool compresses and artificial tears to alleviate discomfort in mild cases. In more severe cases, your optometrist may decide to prescribe a medication such as an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. In cases of persistent allergic conjunctivitis, steroid eye drops may be prescribed.

Even though pink eye is usually a highly treatable eye infection, there is sometimes a chance it could deteriorate into a more serious condition. Any time you notice symptoms of pink eye, be sure to schedule an appointment with your optometrist in order to see how to best to treat it.