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Pink Eye: A Common and Contagious Problem

Last updated: March 25, 2021

You notice your eye turning red. Maybe it’s itchy, watery, or feels like you have sand stuck in it. Could it be the dreaded pink eye? Dr. Felix Jolly Odathil, a Family Medicine Physician at ThedaCare Physicians-New London provides insight on this common and contagious condition.

Pink Eye Types

Pink eye, or acute conjunctivitis, is an infection or inflammation affecting the conjunctiva. These are the thin membrane that covers the white part of the eye. It’s a common eye problem that can impact both adults and children.

Adults experiencing pink eye normally have one of three types: bacterial, viral, or allergic, Dr. Odathil says. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis are both highly contagious. They’re spread through direct or indirect contact with someone else who is infected.

Bacterial

“Bacterial conjunctivitis usually has thick green or yellow discharge from one eye,” Dr. Odathil says. “That infection can spread to the second eye later, with no other systemic signs.”

Viral

Viral conjunctivitis, on the other hand, usually manifests in watery, thin strands of mucous coming from both eyes. People may feel like their eyes are gritty or burning. They say it feels like they have sand in their eyes.

Viral conjunctivitis may be a symptom of the onset of other diseases, including COVID-19. People also can experience pink eye along with colds and respiratory infections.

Allergic

A third type is allergic conjunctivitis. It’s associated with congestion, sneezing, thin watery discharge from both eyes, and dark, discolored circles around the eyes, Dr. Odathil says.

“It can be activated when the body produces histamines in reaction to irritants such as pollen, medicines, or pet dander,” he says. “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.” 

Preventing Pink Eye

“Both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are contagious,” Dr. Odathil says. “Washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with others can help reduce the risk of contracting conjunctivitis.”

Follow these additional steps to reduce your risk of contracting pink eye:

  • Avoid touching your eyes with your hands
  • Don’t share eye cosmetics, towels, or washcloths
  • Changing your pillowcases frequently
  • Use clean washcloths and towels
  • Refrain from wearing contact lenses longer than recommended, and clean them properly

Pink Eye Treatment

Antibiotics can help speed healing from bacterial conjunctivitis, but other types of pink eye don’t benefit, Dr. Odathil says. 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, contact your provider to determine whether you should be seen,” Dr. Odathil says.

Symptoms that indicate you may need medical attention include pain, a very red eye, discharge, crusty eyes upon waking, blurry or foggy vision, and 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 of the cornea in both adults and children. This can adversely affect vision.

“People who have weakened immune systems should also see their provider if they have symptoms of pink eye,” Dr. Odathil says. “It’s important to receive proper treatment to avoid more serious eye problems.”

Pink eye can be treated in person or through a virtual visit. Schedule an appointment today at MyThedaCare.org.

Tags: eye infection pink eye pink eye infection pink eye prevention pink eye signs pink eye symptoms pink eye treatments

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