Conjunctivitis – commonly known as Pink Eye – is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, transparent layer that covers the inner eyelid and the white portion at the front of the eye (the sclera). An irritation will cause the blood vessels contained in the conjunctiva to dilate, which is what causes red or bloodshot eyes. It is often associated with either watery discharge or sticky, mucous discharge). Although conjunctivitis is common among children and may be caused by a minor infection, all ages may be affected. It is important to note that some forms of conjunctivitis may develop into a more serious problem if not diagnosed and treated properly.
There are 3 categories of conjunctivitis which differ in offending agent:
Bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments prescribed by your eye doctor.
Viral conjunctivitis, unlike bacterial infections, cannot be treated with antibiotics. This form of conjunctivitis is self-limited, which means that the infection will go away on its own anywhere between 7 days to several weeks duration.
Some doctors of optometry use off-label treatment for viral conjunctivitis to clear away as much virus as possible in the eye while the immune system has a chance to kick in and help stop the spread of the virus (see Betadine treatment for info). Sometimes (steroid) eye drops are used to prevent scarring of cornea.
Artificial tears can be used frequently, and applying a wet, cold washcloth to the infected eye to relieve discomfort from the symptoms. (NOTE: Due to the highly contagious nature of this type of pink eye, be very careful not to share used cloths!) – frequent handwashing, avoid touching eyes, sharing towels, etc. are important. Patients are also advised to stay away from school/work for a full 2 weeks from onset of viral conjunctivitis as it is contagious during this period (10-12 days).
Allergy medications (antihistamine) can help provide relief, shorten the length, and sometimes even prevent the onset of allergic conjunctivitis. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, speak with your doctor about beginning these medications early in order to get ahead of the symptoms
The treatment of chemical conjunctivitis depends on the degree of exposure. For minor irritation such as chlorine from swimming in a pool, carefully rinse the eyes and consider purchasing a good pair of goggle for future activities. More acute chemical exposure may be a medical emergency and call for immediate medical attention.
(These are especially true for viral forms, but also make sense for bacterial forms.)
With a better understanding of the different forms of conjunctivitis, here are some easy tips to help reduce the risk of contracting of the very contagious viral conjunctivitis
Having a pink or red eye can be the symptom of many eye problems beyond conjunctivitis- some of which can damage your vision if not treated appropriately. If you or your child experiences this change of colour to the whites of their eyes (or pain, light sensitivity), see a Doctor of Optometry right away!
Content provided by the Canadian Association of Optometrists