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Pink Eye is an extremely contagious infection of the eye that can cause swelling, itching, burning, discharge, and redness to the protective membranes that surround the eyelids and eyeballs. Pink Eye is also known as conjunctivitis because of the conjunctiva - the thin clear tissue that lies over the white part of the eye, and lines the inside of the eyelid - becomes inflamed.
Conjunctivitis spreads rapidly and most often through children. For example, day care facilities and schools often have pink eye breakouts throughout the year. Pink eye is very unlikely to cause any damage to vision, especially if it is treated promptly. When the proper precautions are taken to prevent it from spreading, along with following doctors orders, pink-eye usually clears up with no long term problems.
Causes of Pink Eye
There are several factors that could be causes of pink eye, including:
- Viruses, especially those that cause the common cold.
- Irritants, such as shampoos, dirt, smoke, and chlorine.
- A reaction to eyedrops
- An allergic reaction to pollen, dust, or smoke. Sometimes, it is due to a special type of allergy that affects some people who wear contact lenses.
- Fungi, amoebas, and parasites
- Sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia.
Pink Eye caused by some bacteria and viruses can spread easily from person to person, but it isn't a serious health risk, if diagnosed promptly. If a newborn baby contracts pink eye though, be sure to tell a doctor immediately, as it might be an infection that threatens the baby's vision.
Types of Pink Eye
Viral Strains: are the most common, and most contagious forms. They tend to start in one eye, where they cause a lot of tears, and watery discharge. Within a couple days, the other eye begins to experience the same symptoms. A lymph mode may even become swollen in front of the ear or under the jawbone.
Bacterial Strains: usually infect one eye, but can show up in both. The eye will discharge pus and mucus.
Ophthalmia Neonatorum: is a severe form of pink eye that affects newborns. It can be caused by dangerous bacteria, and needs to be treated immediately to prevent permanent eye damage, or blindness.
Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis: is linked with the long-term use of contacts, or an artificial eye. Doctors believe that it is an allergic reaction to a chronic foreign body in the eye.
Symptoms of Pink Eye
The symptoms of pink eye vary based on the cause of the inflammation, but they may include the following:
- Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid
- Swollen conjunctiva
- Increased production of tears
- Green, or white discharge from the eye
- Swollen lymph nodes
Be sure to contact a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- There's a numerous amount of yellow or green discharge from the eye, or if the eyelids are stuck together.
- Severe pain in the eye, especially when looking into bright light.
- Blurry, or double vision.
Call a doctor immediately if you newborn has pink eye, as it could permanently harm their vision.
An eye doctor may tell you to come into the office to be seen immediately. If your eye doctor can't be reached, contact your primary care physician if the pink eye is mild. If the symptoms remain mild, but the redness does not improve within 2 weeks, you will need to consult your eye doctor.
Diagnosing Pink Eye
It's important to remember that not all red, irritated, or swollen eyes are pink eye. The symptoms could also be caused by seasonal allergies, a sty, inflammation of the gland along the eyelid, or an inflammation or infection of the skin along the eyelid. These conditions are not contagious.
An eye doctor will ask about the symptoms you are experiencing, perform an eye exam, and may use a cotton swab to obtain fluid from your eyelid to test in a lab. That will help find any bacteria or viruses that may have caused the conjunctivitis, including those that can cause an STD. Then, the doctor will prescribe the right treatment.
Treatment for Pink Eye
The treatment often depends on the cause. For example:
Viruses: This type of pink eye often results from the viruses that cause a cold. As a cold must run its course, the same is true for this form of pink eye, which usually lasts from 4 to 7 days. Remember, this form is highly contagious, so it is imperative to do as much as possible to prevent it from spreading. This includes, disinfecting, avoiding touching and rubbing in and around the eye, or staying home from work or school until you or your child are no longer contagious. Antibiotics will not help a viral infection.
Bacteria: If bacterial, including those related to STDs, antibiotics will work. Usually the antibiotics will come in the form of eyedrops, ointments, or pills. Depending on the instructions of your doctor, you may need to apply eyedrops or ointments to the inside of your eyelid three to four times a day for five to seven days. Pills, would be taken for several days. With this treatment, the infection should improve within a week. It is important to take or use the medications as instructed by your doctor, even if the symptoms are relieved.
Irritants: For pink eye that is caused by an irritating substance, use water to wash the substance from the eye for five minutes. Your eye(s) should begin to improve within 4 hours. If the pink eye was caused by acid or alkaline material, such as bleach, immediately rinse the eyes with a lot of water, and contact your doctor right away.
Allergies: Pink eye that is tied to allergies should improve once the allergy is treated, and by avoiding the allergy trigger. Antihistamines - either oral or drops - can provide relief. As always, it is best to seek medical advice if the pink eye is due to an allergy.
Many times, preventing pink eye is all based on cleanliness. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, especially before eating or touching your face.
Keep your eyes clean: Wash any discharge from your eyes several times a day using a fresh cotton ball or paper towel. Discard the cotton ball or paper towel afterward, and wash your hands with soap and warm water.
Wash or change your pillowcase every day until the infection is cleared. Clean the bed linens, pillowcases, and towels in hot water and detergent. Keep your own towels, washcloths, and pillows separate from others.
Do not touch or rub your infected eye(s) with your hands or fingers. Use tissues instead.
Do not wear or share products such as, eye makeup, eye drops, or contact lenses. Wear glasses instead, and toss away disposable lenses. Or, be sure to clean extended-wear contact lenses, and all eyewear cases.
Use a warm compress, such as a washcloth soaked in warm water. Put it over your eye for a few minutes, three to four times a day. This will help ease the pain and helps break up some of the crust on the eyelashes.
Do not put a patch over the eye, as it may worsen the infection.
Protect the eyes from dirt and other irritants.
Nonprescription artificial tears, may help ease the itching and burning from irritants, but you should not use other nonprescription eyedrops, as they may worsen the irritation. Do not use the same bottle of drops in an uninfected eye. Ask your doctor how to use eyedrops the proper way.
If you or your child has bacterial or viral pink eye, it is best to stay home until you or they are no longer contagious. It is usually safe to return to school or work when symptoms are gone, but remember to still practice cleanliness.
Pink eye can spread in areas where people live, work, and play closely together. For instance, if you share a computer or other gear with others, be sure to wash your hands before you touch your face or eat - especially during cold and flu season.
Normally, pink eye clears up on its own or after treatment, with no lasting problems. Mild pink eye is almost always harmless, and will get better without treatment. Remember, some forms of conjunctivitis can become serious and sight threatening because they can scar your cornea - this includes the types caused by gonorrhea, chlamydia, or certain strains of the adenovirus.
As always, seek medical treatment and advice before attempting treatment on your own. Mountainside Medical Equipment offers a wide variety of products that can and do help with the condition itself, as well as the symptoms of pink eye.