Understanding pink eye
Pink eye is also known as conjunctivitis and is as contagious as the common cold. In fact, it’s often caused by the same virus that causes your cold. Pink eye can be viral or bacterial, and allergies may also be a cause of conjunctivitis. In babies, an incompletely opened tear duct can be the culprit.
Small blood vessels that run through the white part of your eye become inflamed and more visible, making the whites of your eyes appear red or pink. Pink eye is uncomfortable, and because it’s contagious, early diagnosis and treatment is key
Pink eye is not more contagious in kids—it’s just they’re more likely to touch their face, so it’s easier for them to catch.
What are common pink eye symptoms?
Symptoms of pink eye include red, itchy eyes, tearing, a gritty feeling in the eye, and even a discharge that forms a crust and might prevent your eye from opening in the morning. If you wake with any of these symptoms, wait an hour, and see if your condition improves. For immediate relief of your symptoms, you should be cautious of using any drug store eye products that help get the red out. They often contain oxymetazoline, which can be addictive.
What are common causes?
The most common causes of pink eye are viruses, bacteria, and allergies, though pink eye can also be a result of eye irritation from a foreign object or substance (cosmetics, swimming pool chlorine).
Most cases of pink eye are caused by a virus and can occur along with colds, respiratory infections, and sore throats. Wearing unclean contact lenses can harbor bacteria that cause pink eye. If your pink eye is related to allergies, you may experience intense itching, tearing, and inflammation of your eyes, along with other allergy symptoms like sneezing and nasal discharge.
How to prevent pink eye?
Good hygiene is the best way to control the spread of pink eye:
- Don’t touch or rub your eyes with your hands
- Wash your hands often
- Use a clean washcloth and towel daily
- Don’t share towels, makeup or personal eye items
- Throw away cosmetics and disposable contact lenses
Be mindful that pink eye is contagious, but it’s OK to return to work or school, as long as you’re consistent about practicing good hygiene.
Most treatment for pink eye focuses on the relief of your symptoms, which may include using a hot or cool compress several times daily. This is because the most common form of pink eye is viral, and the virus needs to run its course—up to 2-3 weeks. You should avoid wearing contact lenses or using eye make-up until your pink eye is resolved.
- Bacterial pink eye: antibiotic eye drops may be effective. Like all antibiotics, proper use will avoid them losing future effectiveness.
- Allergy related pink eye: there are many prescription options that help control the impact of the allergic reaction or help control inflammation. Over-the-counter eye drops may also be effective. It’s important to get a recommendation from a clinician about the best product to use
- Herpes simplex related pink eye: a clinician may prescribe anti-viral medications as an option.