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Optometric Insight: Conjunctivitis

Pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, is one of the most frequently encountered eye diseases, particularly in kids. Pink eye can be caused by bacteria, a virus or even sensitivities to pollen, chlorine in swimming pools, and ingredients in cosmetics, or other chemicals that penetrate the eyes. Certain types of pink eye are quite contagious and easily go around in school and in the office.

This infection is seen when the conjunctiva, or thin transparent layer of tissue that protects the white part of the eye, gets inflamed. You'll be able to recognize conjunctivitis if you notice redness, discharge, itching or swollen eyelids and crusty eyes early in the day. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. Conjunctivitis infections can be divided into three basic sub-types: bacterial, allergic and viral conjunctivitis.

The viral manifestation is usually a result of a similar virus to that which makes us have those familiar watery and red eyes, sore throat and runny nose of the common cold. Symptoms of the viral form of conjunctivitis can last from seven to fourteen days and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. You may however, be able to reduce some of the discomfort by applying soothing drops or compresses. The viral form of pink eye is contagious until it's gone, so in the meanwhile remove discharge and avoid sharing pillowcases or towels. Children who have viral conjunctivitis will need to stay home from school for three days to a week until they are no longer contagious.

Bacterial pink eye is caused by a common bacterial infection that enters the eye usually from an external object entering the eye that carries the bacteria, such as a dirty finger. This type of pink eye is most commonly treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. You should see the symptoms disappearing after three or four days of treatment, but be sure to finish the entire course of antibiotics to stop conjunctivitis from recurring.

Pink eye that results from allergies is not contagious or infectious. It usually occurs among those who already have seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The red, itchy, watery eyes may be just a small part of their overall allergic reaction. First of all, to treat allergic pink eye, the irritant itself should be removed. Try cool compresses and artificial tears to relieve discomfort in mild cases. When the infection is more severe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. When the pink eye persists for an extended period, topical steroid eye drops could be used.

In all cases of conjunctivitis, implementing good hygiene is the first rule of thumb. Wash your hands thoroughly and often and don't touch your eyes with your hands.

Conjunctivitis should always be diagnosed by a professional eye doctor in order to identify the type and best course of treatment. Never treat yourself! Remember the sooner you start treatment, the lower likelihood you have of spreading the infection to others or prolonging your discomfort.

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