What to Know About “Pink Eye”

by May 13, 2020

Pink eye is a term commonly used to describe conjunctivitis, an eye condition that causes the eyes to become red and uncomfortable.  The conjunctiva is the clear membrane that covers the white portion of the eye.  If the conjunctiva becomes infected, irritated, or inflamed, it can result in “pink eye.”  There are three main causes of conjunctivitis: viral infections, bacterial infections, or allergy-related inflammation.  Each type of “pink eye” can cause different symptoms and requires different treatment.  If you are experiencing a red eye and suspect you may have conjunctivitis, be sure to visit one of our optometrists. 


What is Viral Conjunctivitis?

It is not uncommon for pink eye to be caused by an underlying viral infection.  In these cases, conjunctivitis can be very contagious and may easily be spread by hand-to-eye contact or even though airborne transmission.  For this reason, it is very important to practice good hygiene in cases of viral conjunctivitis, including keeping pillow cases, bedsheets, and towels clean, avoiding touching the face, and frequently washing hands. 

Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis include an eye that is very red, watery, and irritated, with watery discharge.  Some very severe infections can result in swollen or puffy eyelids.  Typically, this sort of infection starts in only one eye and can spread to the other eye after a few days.  Like all viral infections, antibiotic drops are not effective in treating this condition.  Viral conjunctivitis needs to “run its course” – symptoms usually begin to improve in about a week.  Occasionally certain eye drops can be used to improve comfort while the infection resolves.

Recently, viral conjunctivitis has made the news because it has been associated with the novel coronavirus.  Remember that protecting your eyes, as well as your nose and mouth, is very important during this time!


Itchy Eyes and Allergic Conjunctivitis

It is not uncommon to experience itchy red eyes during pollen-heavy seasons like Spring or Fall.  This is usually due to allergic conjunctivitis, a hypersensitivity reaction to allergens in the environment.  This form of pink eye can cause the eyes and eyelids to become red, itchy, and watery, and it is common for both eyes to be affected.  Systemic allergy symptoms like wheezing and sneezing may also accompany allergic conjunctivitis.  There are several over-the-counter or prescription anti-itch eye drops that can reduce the uncomfortable eye symptoms of this form of pink eye.  Regular lubricating eye drops can also be effective, and applying cool compresses to the outsides of the eyelids may also improve comfort.  In very severe cases an oral antihistamine or other systemic allergy treatment may be necessary. 


Bacterial Conjunctivitis and Infections

Pink eye can be cause by bacterial infections, though this is pretty rare, especially in adults.  Symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis include redness and thick, sticky, mucus-like discharge that affects one or both eyes.  This condition is usually spread by direct contact with an infected person.  Antibiotic eye drops or ointments are very effective in treating this condition.  If treated properly, the symptoms can begin to resolve with a week. 


Our eye doctors at EyeDocs Family Eye Care in Brookville, OH excel in prescription of glasses, contact lenses and the diagnosis of a variety of eye disese. Call our optometrists at 937-770-1265 or schedule an eye exam appointment online if you would like to be evaluated for pink eye, red eyes or conjunctivitis. Our eye doctors, Dr. Kyle Maxam and Dr. Cara Wampler, provide the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in Brookville, Ohio.

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