Know the Signs, Types and Treatment Methods
It happens: You notice your eye turning red, and maybe it’s itchy or watering. Maybe it feels like you’ve have sand stuck in it, and you wonder what’s going on – is this pink eye, and how can you make it go away? Dr. Felix Jolly Odathil, MD, family medicine physician at ThedaCare Physicians-New London provides insight on this very common and contagious condition.
What is Pink Eye?
Pink eye, or acute conjunctivitis, is an infection or inflammation affecting the conjunctiva, the thin membrane that covers the white part of the eye. It’s a common eye problem that can impact both adults and children.
Patients experiencing pink eye normally have one of three types: bacterial, viral or allergic, explained Dr. Odathil. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are both highly contagious and are spread through directly or indirect contact with someone else who is infected.
“Bacterial conjunctivitis usually has thick green or yellow discharge from one eye,” he said. “That infection can spread to the second eye later, with no other systemic signs.”
Viral conjunctivitis, on the other hand, usually manifests in watery, thin strands of mucous coming from both eyes. Patients may feel like their eyes are gritty or burning, and often report feeling like sand is in their eyes. Viral conjunctivitis may be a symptom of the onset of other diseases, including COVID-19. People can also experience pink eye along with colds and respiratory infections.
A third type, allergic conjunctivitis, is associated with congestion, sneezing, thin watery discharge from both eyes, and “allergic shiners” Dr. Odathil explained.
“It can be activated when the body produces histamines in reaction to irritants such as pollen, medicines or pet dander,” he said. “The inflammation from allergic conjunctivitis can cause itching, tearing, nasal discharge and sneezing as well. Allergy eye drops might provide some relief of the issues.”
How Can Pink Eye Be Prevented?
“Both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are contagious,” said Dr. Odathil. “Washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with others can help reduce the risk of contracting conjunctivitis.”
Other ways to reduce your risk of contracting pink eye:
- Avoid touching your eyes with your hands.
- Don’t share eye cosmetics such as mascara or eyeliner, and don’t share towels and washcloths.
- Regularly change your pillowcases and use clean washcloths and towels each day.
- Do not wear contact lenses longer than recommended and clean them properly.
What is the Treatment for Pink Eye?
According to Dr. Odathil, antibiotics can help speed healing from bacterial conjunctivitis, but other types of pink eye don’t benefit. Most cases of pink eye will heal within a week or two. Over-the-counter eye drops, or artificial tears, can help with symptoms. Cold compresses also can help reduce redness and swelling.
“If you do notice symptoms of pink eye, call your provider to determine whether you should be seen,” he said. “Symptoms that indicate you may need medical attention include pain, a very red eye, discharge, crusty eyes upon waking, blurry or foggy vision, or sensitivity to light. If you were exposed to an irritant, such as a chemical splash, or your eye was recently scratched, you also should visit your provider.”
Newborns could experience pink eye because of a blocked tear duct and require a visit to their provider. Pink eye can lead to inflammation in the cornea in both adults and children that can adversely affect vision.
“People who have weakened immune systems should also see their provider if they have symptoms of pink eye,” Dr. Odathil said. “It’s important to receive proper treatment to avoid more serious eye problems.”