Pink eye is a well-known term that is commonly used to describe conjunctivitis, an ocular condition that causes red irritated eyes. The conjunctiva is a clear membrane that covers the white portion of the eye. When conjunctivitis occurs, the conjunctiva becomes infected, irritated, or inflamed due to a variety of reasons. There are several different forms of “pink eye,” each with different underlying causes, symptoms, and treatment approaches. Continue reading to learn more about pink eye.
Viral Conjunctivitis and Pink Eye
“Pink eye” is most commonly caused by a viral infection, resulting in viral conjunctivitis. This form of pink eye can be highly contagious, and may be spread through hand-to-eye contact or even through airborne transmission. Viral pink eye can be related to respiratory infections like the common cold. Common symptoms of viral conjunctivitis include a red uncomfortable eye with a watery-like discharge. In most cases, the infection starts in one eye and spreads to the other within a few days. Some very severe infections can result in the eyelids becoming swollen or inflamed.
Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for viral conjunctivitis. Like most other viral infections, it is self-limiting and has to run its course. Lubricating eye drops and mild medications may help reduce the discomfort, but they will not eliminate the underlying infection. Close contact with another person who has viral conjunctivitis can put you at risk for becoming infected, so caution and good hygiene is essential. Those who have a suspected viral infection should frequently wash their hands and face, diligently wash household items like towels and pillow cases, and dispose of any cosmetic products that may have come into contact with the eyes.
Recently, viral conjunctivitis has gained attention as there are reports that it is associated with the novel SARS-CoV-2 infection. In some cases of COVID-19, mild viral conjunctivitis was an early sign. With this in mind, it is important to protect the eyes as well as the nose and mouth to promote the best hygiene.
As spring arrives and the pollen count rises, allergic conjunctivitis will become increasingly common. This form of pink eye is not infectious, it is caused by the body’s reaction to allergens like pollen or dust. Symptoms of ocular allergies include redness, itching, and burning. It most commonly affects both eyes, and in severe cases the lids may become swollen.
Allergic “pink eye” is easily treated with antihistamine eye drops or over-the-counter medications. For those who also experience systemic allergy symptoms like wheezing or a stuffy nose, oral antihistamines can provide significant relief. For some mild cases of allergic conjunctivitis, simply using lubricating artificial tears and cool compresses may be enough to alleviate symptoms.
Conjunctivitis can also be cause by bacterial infections. Bacterial conjunctivitis rarely occurs in adults, but is more frequently seen in infants or young children. Symptoms include swollen eyes and a thick mucus discharge. Luckily there are many safe antibiotic eye drops or ointments that can help eliminate a bacterial infection and treat the condition.
If you think you have symptoms of conjunctivitis, call your eye doctor. They can diagnose your condition and help guide you to the best treatment options.