"Pink eye" is a term that may sound scary, but this is a common eye problem that typically is easily treated and, with a few simple precautions, can often be avoided. Anyone can get pink eye; however, preschoolers, school children, college students, teachers and daycare workers are particularly at risk for the contagious types of pink eye due to their close proximity with others in a classroom environment.
Pink eye (Conjunctivitis) is an inflammation of the thin, clear covering of the white of the eye (sclera) and the inside of the eyelids (conjunctiva). Although the conjunctiva is transparent, it contains blood vessels, and with inflammation these blood vessels dilate causing red, bloodshot eyes. Three types of conjunctivitis are:
- Viral Conjunctivitis - Caused by a virus, like the common cold. This type of pink eye is very contagious, but usually will clear up on its own within several days without medical treatment. Symptoms; watery, itchy eyes, and sensitivity to light. May affect one or both eyes. Highly contagious; can be spread by coughing and sneezing. Treatment; A home remedy of applying a cold, wet washcloth to the eyes several times a day can relieve symptoms. Note - due to the highly contagious nature of this type of pink eye, be sure not to share your washcloth with others when you are treating your pink eye.
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis - Caused by bacteria, this type of conjunctivitis can cause serious damage to the eye if left untreated. Symptoms; a sticky, yellow or greenish-yellow eye discharge in the comer of the eye. One or both eyes may be affected. Contagious by direct contact with hands or items that have touched the infected eye. Treatment; Your doctor will need to see you and typically will prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for treatment of this conjunctivitis.
- Allergic Conjunctivitis - Caused by eye irritants such as pollen, dust and animal dander among susceptible individuals. Allergic conjunctivitis may be seasonal (pollen) or my flare up year-round (dust or pet dander). Symptoms; watery, burning, itchy eyes, often accompanied by stuffiness and a runny nose, and light sensitivity. Both eyes are affected. This type of conjunctivitis is not contagious. Treatment; allergy medications often can help prevent or shorten bouts of allergic conjunctivitis. Usually allergy medications must be started before the allergy season or allergy flare-ups begin.
If you develop red, irritated eyes, you should schedule an eye examination with your eye doctor and let them determine the appropriate treatment regimen.