Known in the medical world as conjunctivitis, pink eye is a common and often highly contagious infection of the conjunctiva. That’s the super thin, clear layer of tissue that covers the white portion of your eyes (sclera) and lines the inside of your eyelids.
The conjunctiva is an easy part of your body to ignore most days, but it can make you weep with frustration and cause you significant discomfort when it gets sick. The good news is that the most common types of conjunctivitis don’t typically affect your vision or cause complications when treated correctly.
What are the signs of pink eye?
Symptoms vary a bit depending on the underlying cause of the infection and may occur in one or both eyes. Signs you can watch for include:
- Discoloration of the whites of your eyes, which may range from a light pink hue to a vivid red that covers the entire sclera
- Persistent itching in one or both eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Sensation of grit or sand in your eyes
- Discharge from the eyes that tends to crust overnight and make it difficult to open your eyelids in the morning
Because of the contagious nature of certain types of conjunctivitis, schools often send out a warning when there’s an outbreak in a classroom. This may be the clearest sign that the eye irritation you or your child is experiencing could be pink eye.
What causes pink eye?
By far, the most common cause of pink eye is a viral infection. Much like the common cold virus, it’s extremely contagious and is spread through direct or indirect contact with even a small amount of the liquid draining from an infected eye.
Viral conjunctivitis is well-known for its tendency to spread rapidly through classrooms and families. You can also transfer it from one eye to another by simply rubbing your face or using the same washcloth for both eyes.
The second most common type of pink eye is caused by a bacterial infection. It’s also quite contagious and may be passed from one person to another through indirect or direct contact with the material draining from an infected eye. Wearing contacts that you haven’t cleaned properly can also cause bacterial conjunctivitis.
Other forms of conjunctivitis are caused by irritants such as sand or other foreign bodies in your eyes as well as allergies that inflame and cause swelling of the delicate conjunctival tissue.
Newborns may develop conjunctivitis due to a blocked tear duct, which requires immediate medical attention.
What is the treatment for pink eye?
Most conjunctivitis is viral and must run its course, which may take two to three weeks to clear fully, but symptoms are typically at their worst over the first three to five days.
For allergic conjunctivitis, the medical staff at Chesapeake ERgent Care may prescribe eyedrops and other medications designed to control your allergies. Antibiotic ointment or eyedrops may help with a bacterial infection but aren’t always necessary.
Typically, the focus is on treating your symptoms and preventing the spread or recurrence of conjunctivitis.
Your provider might recommend comfort measures such as artificial tears to relieve irritation and cold or warm compresses applied to the eye area several times a day.
Tips for preventing the spread or recurrence of pink eye include:
- Discontinue contact use when you have conjunctivitis and throw away disposable lenses you might have worn when the infection began
- Sterilize hard contact lenses overnight before using them again
- Discard any old eye makeup
- Don’t share towels or washcloths and use a clean set every day
- Avoid touching your eyes or face and wash your hands frequently throughout the day
- Change your pillowcase every morning
- Keep your child home from school and other activities if you suspect pink eye
If you think you or your child might have conjunctivitis, visit Chesapeake ERgent Care today to confirm the diagnosis and get the treatment you need.