Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, describes a group of diseases that cause swelling, itching, burning and redness of the conjunctiva, the protective membrane that lines the eyelids and covers exposed areas of the sclera, or white of the eye.
The conjunctiva is exposed to bacteria and other irritants. Tears help protect the conjunctiva by washing away bacteria. Tears also contain proteins and antibodies that kill bacteria. Conjunctivitis can spread from one person to another and affects millions of people at any given time.
What Causes Conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, allergies like dust or pollen, environmental irritants or chemical exposure such as smoke, shampoo, pool chlorine or bleach, a contact lens product, eye drops, or eye ointments. At its onset, it is usually painless and does not affect vision. The infection will clear in most cases without requiring medical care. But for some forms of conjunctivitis, treatment will be needed. If treatment is delayed, the infection may worsen and cause corneal inflammation and a loss of vision. Symptoms can include blurred vision, eye pain, increased tearing, itching of the eye, redness in the eyes, sensitivity to light and crusts that form on the eyelid overnight.
How is Conjunctivitis Treated?
Treatment of conjunctivitis depends on the cause, but the outcome is usually good with treatment.
- Bacteria: Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics in the form of eye drops, ointments, or pills. The infection should improve within a week. Applying warm compresses may improve discomfort.
- Viral: Viral conjunctivitis generally results from the same viruses that cause a common cold. Just as a cold must run its course, so must this form, which usually lasts from four to seven days. Viral conjunctivitis can be very contagious so it is important to avoid contact with others and wash your hands frequently.
- Allergy: Allergic conjunctivitis may respond to allergy treatment. It should also improve once the allergen is removed. Cool compresses may help sooth allergic conjunctivitis.
- Irritants: When conjunctivitis is caused by an irritating substance, use water to wash the substance from the eye for 15 minutes. The eyes should begin to improve within four hours. If the conjunctivitis is caused by acid or alkaline material such as bleach, immediately rinse the eyes with lots of water and call a doctor immediately.
What Can I do to Relieve Symptoms?
To relieve the symptoms of pink eye:
- Protect your eyes from dirt and other irritating substances
- Avoid the use of makeup
- Remove contact lenses
- Use over-the-counter artificial tear eye drops to help relieve itching and burning. Do not use eye drops promoted to treat eye redness
How Can I Prevent Spreading Conjunctivitis?
- Don’t touch or rub the infected eye(s)
- Wash your hands often with soap and water
- Wash any discharge from your eyes several times a day using a fresh cotton ball. Discard the cotton ball and wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
- Wash your bed linens, pillowcases and towels in hot water and detergent
- Don’t share eye makeup with anyone
- Avoid sharing common articles such as unwashed towels and glasses
- Wear eyeglasses instead of contact lenses. Throw away disposable lenses or thoroughly clean extended wear lenses and all eyewear cases.
- Do not use eye drops that were used for an infected eye in a non-infected eye
Wolfe Eye Clinic has experts in conjunctivitis (pink eye). We offer complete conjunctivitis and corneal disease expertise throughout Iowa, including Ames, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, Marshalltown, Ottumwa, Spencer and Waterloo.
Please contact Wolfe Eye Clinic at 1-800-542-7956 to ask any corneal disease or conjunctivitis-related questions or to schedule an appointment with one of our corneal disease specialists: Dr. Steven Johnson, Dr. Todd Gothard or Dr. Matthew Rauen.