Pink eye is a much nicer name for a condition technically known as conjunctivitis. A transparent membrane called the conjunctiva lines your eyelid and part of your eyeball. The conjunctiva lubricates your eye, and its moist warmth creates prime conditions for bacterial and viral infection. Infectious pink eye is highly contagious, and early detection can stop it from spreading and alleviate the discomfort. To keep you seeing straight, here is a guide to pink eye:
What causes pink eye
The most common causes for pink eye are an infection or allergic reaction. Babies can also get pink eye from an incompletely opened tear duct. Occasionally, eye irritation from contact with chemicals or a foreign object can induce pink eye. Whatever its cause, pink eye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva — the eye’s protective membrane. When the conjunctiva is inflamed, its small blood vessels become more visible. The aggravated blood vessels cause the whites of the eyes to look pink or red.
While pink eye is uncomfortable, the condition is unlikely to affect your vision. For the most part, the symptoms are merely irritating, and they include redness, itchiness and teary. You might also feel a gritty sensation, as if there was a foreign object in your eye. Conjunctivitis may also cause your eyes to expel discharge that forms a crust at night. Any of these symptoms may appear in one or both eyes.
Types of pink eye and their treatments
Treatments may vary according to what caused the pink eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis may need to be cleared with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. Viral conjunctivitis will most likely resolve itself within three weeks, without medical intervention. Allergic conjunctivitis requires treatment for the allergy itself. Doctors may address the allergy with antihistamines, decongestants or steroids. Anti-inflammatory eye drops can alleviate the symptoms.
Home remedies are particularly helpful for coping with pink eye. A cool or warm compress can temporarily relieve most of the symptoms. You can make a compress by soaking a clean cloth in water, then resting it gently over your closed eyes. Only apply the compress to the infected eye, or it could spread and infect both eyes. Over-the-counter eye drops can also ease discomfort. People with contact lenses should discontinue wearing their lenses until the inflammation goes away. Depending on the type of pink eye, they may also want to change the lenses and case completely.
How to prevent pink eye
Simple precautions can help you avoid pink eye or keep you from spreading it to others. Germs often travel from your hands to your eyes, so it’s good practice to wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes with your hands. People who wear contact lenses should be particularly diligent about washing before inserting and removing their lenses. Bacteria can also travel on cosmetics, so try not to share eye makeup. If you have pink eye, dispose of your eye makeup to prevent the pink eye from coming back. Even if your symptoms appear to have resolved in a few days, conjunctivitis can be contagious for over a week.