Is it pink eye?
The symptoms of conjunctivitis
Pink eye. That unattractive puffiness and discoloration of the eye and eyelid.
Also known as conjunctivitis, pink eye is a swelling of the membrane that lines the eye and the inside of the eyelid.
What are some of the more familiar pink eye symptoms?
- Pink or red color in the white of the eye
- Itching or burning eyes
- Increased tears/watery eyes
- A gritty or irritating sensation in the eye
- Swelling of the eye lid
- Sensitivity to light
- Discharge that dries into a crust, often seen when you wake from sleeping
Pink eye is a pretty common condition. Most cases last 7-10 days, but it is possible for pink eye to go on for weeks, depending on what type it is.
Types of conjunctivitis
Pink eye can have several causes:
- Viral conjunctivitis – Commonly caused by a virus that can easily be spread by coughing or sneezing. Viral pink eye usually produces a watery discharge. It often resolves on its own, after the virus has run its course.
Bacterial conjunctivitis – Pink eye can also occur if bacteria enters the eye. This type of pink eye creates a thicker, yellow-green discharge. Bacterial pink eye can resolve on its own, but may need antibiotics eye drops to provide relief.
Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis can be associated with a cold or respiratory infection.
- Allergic conjunctivitis – If your pink eye is caused by allergies, your doctor may suggest allergy testing to determine the specific cause, which could help prevent future outbreaks. Washing your clothes and bedding more often, and showering before bed may also help.
- Irritation conjunctivitis – Chemicals, smoke, or a foreign object in the eye can also cause pink eye.
Is pink eye contagious?
Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are highly contagious for as long as two weeks after symptoms begin.
People who work with children like teachers and daycare staff are at higher risk because pink eye is very common among children.
Since the herpes virus can also cause pink eye, people who get cold sores may also be more prone to getting conjunctivitis.
How does pink eye spread?
Because viral and bacterial pink eye are contagious, it’s important to prevent the infection from spreading from one eye to the other, or from person to person.
Pink eye can spread just like any other virus, so be sure to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
Avoid touching the affected eye and be sure to carefully wash your hands with soap and water if you do touch it. Do not share washcloths or towels while you have the infection.
If you wear contact lenses, stop using them and make an appointment with your eye doctor if the infection lasts more than a week.
Treating pink eye
While it is ugly and uncomfortable, the good news is that pink eye usually clears up on its own. Rinsing your eye with water and washing your eyelids and eyelashes several times a day is the first step to help relieve your symptoms. A clean, wet cloth placed over the eye can also help. Try warm or cool water and use what feels best.
However, you should seek medical attention if you have any of following symptoms:
- Moderate to severe pain in the eye(s)
- Vision problems, such as sensitivity to light or blurred vision (that does not improve when discharge is wiped away)
- Intense redness in the eye(s)
- Symptoms that get worse, last longer than 7-10 days, or are severe
Does pink eye hurt?
In most cases, pink eye is uncomfortable or annoying, rather than painful. Pink eye can also feel itchy, or cause a burning sensation in the infected eye.
If your symptoms aren’t getting better after a few days, make an appointment with your doctor. He or she can determine if it is caused by a virus or bacteria and prescribe medication if needed.
Preventing pink eye
To avoid immediate re-infection after a case of pink eye you should:
- Throw away any eye drops or ointments used for the infection
- Toss out any makeup or applicators used while infected
- Throw away contact lens solutions used while infected
- Toss out contact lenses and cases used while infected
- Clean your eyeglasses and cases
- Avoid swimming pools, which can carry germs that cause conjunctivitis
To prevent a future pink eye infection, there are steps you can take:
- Try to avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water
- Avoid sharing articles like towels, blankets, and pillowcases
- Clean your eyeglasses
- Clean, store, and replace your contact lenses as instructed by your eye care professional
- Do not share eye makeup, face makeup, makeup brushes, contact lenses or containers, eyeglasses, or eye drops with anyone, even if they appear to be healthy
Pink eye is a common condition that causes irritation to the affected eye. With proper rinsing and cleaning, plus taking care to avoid spreading the infection, conjunctivitis will usually resolve within a week or so.