NY Travel Clinic

Pink Eye: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Pink eye is a common eye problem that inflames the eye. Although any person may be affected by pink eye, children are more at risk because it is highly contagious, and because pink eye spreads easily in a classroom.

What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye is also known as conjunctivitis. It is an inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye – the thin, transparent covering over the white of the eye, inside the eyelid.

Although the conjunctiva itself is clear and transparent, it has blood vessels that spread over the surface of the outer layer of the eyeball (sclera). These blood vessels get dilated when inflamed. This is what gives rise to pink eyes.

Conjunctivitis can arise from different reasons (see below), but most ophthalmologists use “pink eye” to address viral conjunctivitis, which is an extremely contagious infection arising due to viruses.

Types and Causes of Pink Eye

There are three types of conjunctivitis, which are on their cause.

Viral conjunctivitis. It is caused by a virus. Such a condition is highly contagious, but it often heals up on its own after several days. Medical treatment is usually not necessary.

Bacterial conjunctivitis. It is due to bacteria. If untreated, such a condition can cause extensive damage to the affected eye.

Allergic conjunctivitis. It is caused by eye irritants, for instance dust, pollen and animal dander. Allergic conjunctivitis may either be seasonal (from pollen) or flare up anytime (from dust; pet dander).

Symptoms of Pink Eye

The main indication of this condition is its pink appearance. Additional symptoms depend upon the kind of conjunctivitis mentioned above:

Viral conjunctivitis. Itchy and watery eyes with sensitivity to light. This is highly contagious; and may spread by sneezing and coughing.

Bacterial conjunctivitis. A greenish-yellow or yellow, sticky discharge from the corners of the eye. This discharge causes the eyelids to stick together when the person wakes up. This is also contagious, usually through items that have come in contact the infected eye or direct touching with hands.

Allergic conjunctivitis. Itchy, burning and watery eyes. In such a condition, runny and stuffy nose and light sensitivity are also usually present. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious.

Pink Eye Treatment

It depends upon the kind of conjunctivitis:

Viral conjunctivitis. Usually no treatment is required in most cases, as viral conjunctivitis runs its course after several days. Symptoms can be relieved by applying a wet, cold wash-cloth to the eyes many times a day. (Don’t share this wash-cloth with others, as it’s highly contagious in nature!)

Bacterial conjunctivitis. The doctor typically prescribes antibiotic eye drops or ointments to treat this condition.

Allergic conjunctivitis. Such conditions are often handled with allergy medications that can help to prevent allergic conjunctivitis. These medications may sometimes be started before the allergy season or before the allergy flare-up begins. The doctor can provide more details on this.

Viral and allergic conjunctivitis do not require any special treatment, but bacterial must not be neglected.

Just by observing the symptoms, it is not easy to determine the type of conjunctivitis. Similar symptoms can also arise due to underlying health conditions or if the person has other eye problems.

Conjunctivitis associated conditions include eye infections, blepharitis and dry eyes. Sometimes, bacterial conjunctivitis can lead to serious eye problems, for instance, corneal ulcer can cause a permanent loss of vision.

For such reasons, anytime an individual develops red eyes with irritation, he or she must visit an eye-doctor immediately to schedule an eye exam.

If a person wears contact lenses, then they must be removed until the eye-doctor has checked the eyes.

Prevention of Pink Eye

  1. The infected person must cover his or her mouth and nose and when sneezing or coughing, and avoid touching or rubbing the eyes.
  2. Wash hands, especially while in school or other public places.
  3. Never share your personal items such as tissues, hand towels or washcloths with other people.
  4. Never share color contact lenses with friends.
  5. Clean surfaces with any appropriate antiseptic cleaner, for example, bathroom vanities, countertops, shared phones, faucet handles etc.
  6. Keep a disinfectant to clean hands within reach and use it whenever needed.
  7. Wear swim goggles during swimming.
  8. Use contact lens solutions properly, if you wear contact lenses. Also, contact lenses must be removed before showering or in a hot tub.