It’s fall, so that means back to school time. With all the germs coming together in one area, this is a perfect opportunity to discuss pink eye. What causes it? How can I prevent it? What should I do if I develop it?
There are 3 main types of “pink eye” to think about: allergic, infectious, and chemical. Eyes will have a pink discoloration to the normally white part, and lids may become swollen. Eyes can itch, burn, or feel gritty. Discharge is also common, whether watery or mattery, and there may be an increase in light sensitivity.
Those who suffer from seasonal allergies know all about allergic conjunctivitis. It tends to show up around times of increased pollen in the air. It can also occur as a reaction to contact lenses. Eyes tend to feel very itchy and watery, and rubbing their eyes makes it even worse. Try to avoid the irritant and use artificial tears and cool compresses. Prescription allergy drops may be needed.
Infectious conjunctivitis is passed from person to person, either through contact or sharing contaminated materials such as make-up, lotions, or contact lenses. However, it can also be passed similarly to the common cold, through sneezing or coughing. Eyes will have discharge, watery or mattery, and vision can be blurry. It may start in one eye and pass to the other.
- Bacterial infections need to be treated with antibiotic eye drops. Eyes will be very mattery. Symptoms may improve in a few days, but the entire course still needs to be finished.
- Viral infections cause eyes to be very watery. It needs to run its course, which can take 2-3 weeks. No drops can cure it; however, tears and cool compresses can help with symptoms. In severe cases, some prescribed steroid drops can help with inflammation, but will not decrease the infection time.
Chemical conjunctivitis can be caused by air pollutants, household chemicals, or even chlorine from swimming in a pool. Depending on the type of chemical, different visual outcomes could result. Eyes need to be flushed with water thoroughly if any substance touched the eye, and then call your eye care provider. Other prescription drops may be necessary.
All of the above fall under the category of “pink eye”, even though treatment, symptoms, and outcome are different. If you experience any new symptoms and are unsure, please call your eye care professional for further evaluation and management.