Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): Cause, Symptoms and Treatments

What is Conjunctivitis?

What is Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis also known as pink eye is redness and inflammation of Conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin clear tissue that lies over the white part of the eye and inner part of the eyelids. Pinkeye is often caused by a virus or by a bacterial infection. Allergies, chemical agents and underlying diseases are also causes. The infection is common and is contagious if it is bacterial or viral pinkeye. Usually it is rarely serious and unlikely to cause long-term or vision damage if timely detected and treated. It goes away in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment.

Is Pinkeye contagious?

Is Pinkeye contagious?

Viral and bacterial pinkeye are extremely contagious. The infection is easily spread through habits of poor hand washing or by sharing an object (like a towel) with someone who is already infected. Coughing and sneezing also spread the disease. Anyone with infectious pinkeye should stay out of a school or work for a short period of time. Allergic pinkeye is caused by seasonal pollens, animal dander, cosmetics and perfumes therefore not contagious. Chemical or liquids, including bleach and furniture polish are not spreadable.

Symptom: Eye Redness

Symptom: Eye Redness

The telltale symptom of pinkeye is its name. If your eyes are pink or in any shade of red then you have the inflammation in your eye mucous membrane. The white clear color is the proof of disease free eyes.

Symptom: Swollen, Red Eyelids

Symptom: Swollen, Red Eyelids

Infectious pinkeye symptoms typically begin in one eye and involve the other eye within few days. Symptoms of allergic pinkeye usually involve both eyes. Swelling of the eyelids is a common symptom with bacterial and allergic pinkeye.

Symptom: Lots of Tearing

Symptom: Lots of Tearing

If eyes constantly produce tears then it is a general symptom of pinkeye. In cases of viral and allergic pinkeye it is noted that there is constant watering of the eyes.

Symptom: Itchy or Burning Eyes

Symptom: Itchy or Burning Eyes

Pinkeye’s most noticed symptom is an overwhelming itchy and burning feeling in the eyes. Though such symptom is related to other eye problems, it is a common sign of infection in eyes.

Symptom: Drainage from the Eyes

Symptom: Drainage from the Eyes

If a clear and watery drainage happens from your eyes, it is common with viral and allergic pinkeye. If the more greenish-yellow watery substance comes out from your eye this is likely bacterial pinkeye.

Symptom: Crusty Eyelids

Symptom: Crusty Eyelids

Another common pinkeye symptom is crusty eyelids. If you wake up with your eyes “stuck shut”, this may be caused by the discharge that accumulates during sleep. It is a common sign of infection caused by bacteria or virus.

Symptom: Sensitivity to Light

Symptom: Sensitivity to Light

Pinkeye often causes mild sensitivity to light. If a person feels changes in eyesight, severe light sensitivity, or severe pain may then the eye infection may have spread beyond the conjunctiva. If such symptoms happen it is very important to be examined by a doctor.

Symptom: “Something in the Eye’

Symptom: "Something in the Eye'

A common symptom for eye infection and just not pink eye is if a feeling of ‘something in the eye’. If you notice a bothersome feeling like something is stuck in your eye or what may be usually described the feeling as sand in the eye, then it is a sign of eye contamination.

Conjunctivitis Diagnosis

Conjunctivitis Diagnosis

Conjunctivitis can often be diagnosed by a doctor from its distinguishing signs and symptoms. However a slit lamp exam may be required to verify it. In some cases, a swab of the discharge from the eye is sent to a lab to determine the cause.

When Pinkeye Means Something More

When Pinkeye Means Something More

Persistent pinkeye could be from a severe allergy or infection that needs treatment. The irritated red eyelid could be caused by blepharitis or the condition called dry eye.  Very rare yet possible, the persistent pinkeye is a sign of an illness in the body like rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), or inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.  Another rare occurrence associated with persistent pink eye and fever in infants and young children is Kawasaki disease.

Treating Pinkeye

Treating Pinkeye

Pinkeye often clears up in 7 -10 days without medications. Bacterial pinkeye is treated with antibiotic eye drops, ointment, or pills to clear the infection. Most viral pinkeye cases have no specific treatment. The virus is let to run its course, which is usually four to seven days. Allergic pinkeye symptoms improve once the allergen source is removed and the allergy itself is treated. Chemical pinkeye requires immediate washing of the affected eye(s) for five minutes and a visit to the doctor.

[Also read: Ophthalmology in India]

Easing Symptoms

Easing Symptoms

Pinkeye symptoms can be eased by cold or warm compress on the eyes. Constant washing of eyes by cold water is also effective in case of allergic infection. Remove the discharge from eyes with a cold or warm wad. Make sure to use a different washcloth for each eye to prevent spreading any infection. Use clean washcloths each time. Clean the eye wiping from the inside to the outside of the eye area.

How Long Am I Contagious?

How Long Am I Contagious?

Pinkeye can be contagious maximum for 7 days. In bacterial pinkeye symptoms improve in 24 hours with intake of antibiotics. One can resume normal life as soon as symptoms are cured. With viral pinkeye, you are contagious as long as the symptoms last. It basically runs its course in 4-7 days. Check with your doctor to be certain.

Preventing Its Spread

Preventing Its Spread

In pinkeye, the first action to prevent spread of infection is to avoid touching the eye area. Never share towels or handkerchiefs. Dispose tissues after each use. Change linens and towels daily. Disinfect all surfaces, including countertops, sinks, and doorknobs.  Wash hands regularly and also get rid of any make-up used while infected.

Also read:
What eye problems look like
Facts about Retinal Detachment

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