More than likely, you or your children have had the uncomfortable and unsightly condition called conjunctivitis - more commonly known as pinkeye. This common illness is an inflammation of the clear membrane covering the inner eyelid and the white of the eye, the conjunctiva. With pinkeye, the eyes can become bright red, itchy, and painful. However, most types of pinkeye go away on their own and cause no long-term vision or eye damage.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. The next time your child wakes up with red, itchy eyes, here’s what you should know.
Most of the time, pinkeye is the result of a virus. Pinkeye can actually be caused by the same viruses and bacteria that cause colds, sinus infections, ear infections, and sore throats, as well as by the same kinds of bacteria that lead to sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and Chlamydia. Other causes include allergies (dust, pollen, or dander), exposure to chemicals (chlorine, soap, and shampoo), air pollutants (fumes and smoke), fungi, certain diseases, parasites, or contact lenses (especially the extended wear type).
The symptoms of pinkeye vary from person to person and may depend on the cause of inflammation. Common symptoms include the following:
If any of the symptoms listed above are experienced, take a visit to your eye doctor. Your optometrist will likely perform an exam and swab your eyelid to analyze eye fluid in a lab to determine the cause of the pinkeye. Proper treatment depends on the cause.
If the cause is an allergy, allergy treatment should relieve the symptoms. A cool compress may soothe discomfort and removal of the allergen should cause symptoms to disappear.
For bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotics in the form of pills, eye drops, or ointments are effective. Be sure to take the antibiotics for as long as prescribed.
Viral pinkeye should go away on its own, which is usually four to seven days, though many doctors will prescribe antibiotics to prevent a bacterial infection. A warm compress may feel soothing for either viral or bacterial conjunctivitis. Use a clean, moist cotton ball to wipe away discharge and then discard.
When pinkeye is the result of irritants, flush your eye with water for five minutes. The conjunctivitis should improve in a few hours. If harmful chemicals have gotten in your eyes, rinse with lots of water and call the doctor immediately.
While your eye is healing, avoid using makeup or wearing contact lenses.
Viral pinkeye is highly contagious. If someone is infected, don’t let him or her have contact with others or allow the infected individual to touch or rub his or her eyes until symptoms clear up. Additionally, anyone who comes in contact with the affected individual should wash hands frequently, wash pillowcases, washcloths, and towels each day, and shouldn’t share towels or makeup.