Conjunctivitis-often referred to as “pink eye”- is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, or the “white part” of the eye and inner lining of the eyelid. Inflammation causes small blood vessels in the conjunctiva to become more apparent, which causes the red or pink cast to the whites of the eye. Inflammation associated with conjunctivitis can be very irritating, but it rarely affects vision.
Causes and Treatment:
There are many different causes and types of conjunctivitis, each containing unique treatment plans.
Viral conjunctivitis is often associated with colds or respiratory infection, such as a sore throat. It usually produces a watery discharge, and variable itch. The virus generally begins with one eye, but often spreads to the other. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious, so it is very important to limit contact with others when infected, and refrain from touching or itching your eyes. There is no treatment for most cases of viral conjunctivitis, although antiviral medication may be an option if Drs. Greenbaum, Mathers or DiGiovanni determine that the case is caused by herpes simplex virus. Usually, the symptoms will gradually clear on their own after about 2-3 weeks.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is also associated with respiratory infections and colds. Its symptoms include thick, green-yellow mucous emitted by the eye, crusting of the eye and surrounding skin, and eye redness. Bacterial conjunctivitis is treatable, and Drs. Greenbaum, Mathers, or DiGiovanni will likely prescribe antibiotic eye drops, which should make the infection subside within a few days. Antibiotic eye ointment may also be administered, and should have the same fast results as eye drops, though it can cause blurred vision for about 20 minutes following application.
Allergic conjunctivitis is a response to an allergy-causing substance such as pollen or dust, and affects both eyes. In response to allergens, your body produces an antibody known as immunoglobulin, which triggers special cells in your eyes and airways to release inflammatory substances, such as histamines. These histamines can produce a number of allergy signs and symptoms, including conjunctivitis. Symptoms include intense itching and tearing of the eyes, sneezing, and watery nasal discharge. Most symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis can be treated with allergy eye drops.
Chemical conjunctivitis generally occurs when the eye comes in contact with a chemical splash or foreign object and must be flushed. Irritation from the flushing can cause inflammation and redness, which usually clears up on its own within about a day.
When infected with contagious viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, good hygiene must be practiced to control the spread. For example, you should use clean towels and washcloths daily, and never share. Washing your hands, not touching your face, and throwing out cosmetics should also be practiced to prevent further spread and contamination. In order to avoid reoccurring allergic conjunctivitis, determining the trigger and keeping your distance from it can eliminate symptoms.