What is Pink Eye?
Conjunctivitis has become well-known as a pink eye because the condition typically causes the white of the eye to turn pink or red. The pink or reddish color results from the conjunctiva’s inflammation, which is the clear, thin membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and the white portion of the eyeball.
Causes of Pink Eye
The most common causes of pink eye are viruses, bacteria, allergens, and irritants. Other, less common causes include contact lens wear and fungi. The exact cause can be challenging to determine since some symptoms may be the same regardless of the source.
Viral conjunctivitis, a virus infection of the very contagious eye, typically begins in one eye and then spreads to the other within days. Discharge from the eye(s) is usually watery rather than thick.
Bacterial conjunctivitis, a bacterial infection of the eye that sometimes occurs with an ear infection, is more common in children than adults. Like viral conjunctivitis, it is also highly contagious. According to a study, this form of pink eye is the leading cause of children staying home from daycare or school.1 The discharge, or pus, associated with bacterial conjunctivitis can cause eyelashes to stick together.
Allergic conjunctivitis results from the body’s reaction to allergens, such as pollen from trees, dust mites, or makeup. Unlike viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, this form of pink eye is not contagious. Still, it does usually occur in both eyes. A discharge is not typically associated with this form. Instead, the eyes can become swollen, intensely itchy, and watery.
Irritants that cause conjunctivitis can include a foreign body (like an eyelash), chemicals, fumes, dust, or smoke. Contact lenses that are worn longer than recommended or not cleaned can also lead to this pink eye form. While not contagious, eyes can become watery and produce a mucus discharge.
Symptoms of Pink Eye
Despite the cause of pink eye, the symptoms generally are the same and can include:
- White of the eye(s) turning pink or red
- Eyelids or/and the conjunctiva swelling
- Tear production increase
- Urge to rub the eye(s)
- Feeling like a foreign body is in the eye(s)
- Itching, irritation, or burning of the eye(s)
- Discharge (pus or mucus) secreting from the eye(s) – sometimes causing eyelashes to stick together
- Eyelids or lashes crusting, especially in the morning
- Contact lenses feeling uncomfortable and or not staying in place when worn
Newborns with pink eye symptoms should see their pediatrician immediately. An infection, irritation, or a blocked tear duct can cause neonatal conjunctivitis in a newborn. If the cause is an infection, neonatal conjunctivitis can be severe.
Diagnosing Pink Eye
Eye redness or swelling is a clear indicator of the pink eye, but other symptoms can vary depending on the root cause. However, since many of the symptoms are similar, it can be difficult for a healthcare professional to determine the exact cause.
When seeking treatment at Doral Health & Wellness Urgent Care, patient history, symptoms, an examination of the eye(s), etc. will be used to come up with a diagnosis. If deemed necessary, a sample of discharge from the infected eye(s) may be collected and sent to a lab to determine the form of infection.
Treating Pink Eye
In many cases, pink eye will clear on its own, but here are a few considerations for instances when you should seek professional help:
- Newborns with any pink eye symptoms
- Anyone with a weakened immune system from HIV infection, cancer treatment, or other medical conditions/treatments
- Anyone with an eye injury in which the eye could be scratched, or there is a possibility of a foreign body in the eye
- Intense redness or pain in the eye(s)
- Sensitivity to light or blurred vision that does not improve when discharge is cleared from the eye(s)
- Any symptoms that get worse or do not improve
Of the four main forms, viral conjunctivitis usually is mild and clears up in approximately seven to 14 days without treatment. In some cases, the infection can take up to three weeks to clear up. For the most severe cases, a healthcare professional may prescribe antiviral medication.
For bacterial conjunctivitis, a provider may prescribe an antibiotic, usually administered as eye drops or an ointment. Mild bacterial conjunctivitis may get better without antibiotic treatment, often improving within two to five days.
Allergic conjunctivitis can also be treated with certain eye drops (topical antihistamine and vasoconstrictors) or allergy medications. However, this form may improve when the person removes herself or himself from the environment containing the allergen.
The professionals at Doral Health & Wellness Urgent Care can help identify treatment options for your form of pink eye – whether it’s viral, bacterial, allergens, or irritants.
To help manage your discomfort, you can take a few possible actions, such as using cold compresses and artificial tears, which can be purchased over the counter without a prescription, to soothe the inflammation and dryness. When using a cold compress, it’s important not to touch both eyes with the same cloth. Using a different cloth for each eye reduces the risk of spreading the infection from one eye to another.
Stopping the Spread
When a virus or bacteria cause pink eye, it is very contagious. It spreads easily and quickly from person to person. You can reduce the risk of getting or spreading pink eye by following these necessary prevention steps:
- Wash your hands
- Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
- Avoid sharing makeup, contact lenses and containers, and eyeglasses
- Stay home from work or school
If you wear contact lenses, you should stop wearing them until the infection clears. It’s recommended to start with a fresh pair of contacts or clean your current pair thoroughly before reusing.