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Optometric Insight: Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is one of the most frequently seen eye infections, especially in children. This condition can be caused by bacteria, a virus or allergens like pollen, chlorine in pools, and ingredients in cosmetics, or other products, which come in contact with your eyes. Many kinds of pink eye are fairly contagious and easily spread at school and at the home or office.

This type of infection occurs when the thin clear layer of tissue that covers the white part of your eye, or conjunctiva, gets inflamed. A good clue that you have the infection is if you notice itching, discharge, redness or swollen eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes early in the day. Pink eye infections can be divided into three main kinds: viral, bacterial and allergic conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis is usually a result of the same kind of virus that makes us have those familiar red, watery eyes, runny nose and sore throat of the common cold. Symptoms of viral pink eye will often last from seven to fourteen days and then will resolve themselves on their own. Applying compresses to your eyes in a dark room may provide some relief. The viral form of pink eye is contagious until it is completely cleared up, so meanwhile, maintain excellent hygiene, remove eye discharge and try to avoid using communal towels or pillowcases. If your son or daughter has viral conjunctivitis, he or she will have to be kept home from school for three days to a week until it clears up.

Bacterial pink eye is caused by a common bacterial infection that enters the eye usually from a foreign body such as a finger, makeup or lotion. This form of pink eye is most often treated with antibiotic cream or drops. One should notice an improvement after just a few days of antibiotic drops, but always make sure to finish the entire course of antibiotics to prevent pink eye from coming back.

Allergic conjunctivitis is not transmittable. It is usually a result of a known allergy such as hay fever or pet allergies that sets off an allergic response in their eyes. First of all, to alleviate the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis, the irritant itself must be removed. Use cool compresses and artificial tears to relieve discomfort in mild cases. When the infection is more severe, your eye doctor might prescribe a medication such as an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. In cases of persistent allergic pink eye, steroid eye drops may be tried.

In all instances of pink eye, making certain to maintain sanitary habits is the first rule of thumb. Clean your hands thoroughly and frequently and don't touch your eyes with your hands.

Conjunctivitis should always be checked out by a professional eye doctor in order to identify the type and proper course of treatment. Never treat yourself! Don't forget the sooner you begin treatment, the lower chance you have of spreading pink eye to loved ones or suffering unnecessarily.