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Optometric Insight: Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye, is a frequently seen eye infection, particularly with kids. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria or even irritation from chlorine in swimming pools, pollen, and ingredients in cosmetics, or other chemicals that touch the eyes. Certain kinds of conjunctivitis may be fairly transmittable and quickly go around in schools and in the home.

This infection ensues when the conjunctiva, or thin transparent layer of tissue over the white part of the eye, gets inflamed. You can recognize the infection if you notice eye itching, discharge, redness or inflamed eyelids and eyes that are crusty in the morning. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. The three main subtypes of conjunctivitis are: viral, allergic and bacterial conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis is usually caused by 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 viral conjunctivitis can last from one to two weeks and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. Applying compresses to your eyes in a dark room may provide some relief. Viral conjunctivitis is contagious until it's gone, so meanwhile, remove discharge and avoid using communal pillowcases or towels. Children who have viral pink eye should stay home for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by a common bacterial infection that enters the eye typically from a foreign carrier such as a finger, makeup or lotion. This type of pink eye is usually treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. One should see an improvement within just a few days of treatment, but always be sure to take the entire course of antibiotics to stop conjunctivitis from recurring.

Pink eye caused by allergies is not transmittable. It is usually a result of a known allergy such as pollen, pet dander or smoke that sets off an allergic reaction in their eyes. The first step in alleviating pink eye that is due to allergies is to remove the allergen, if possible. For mild cases, cool compresses and artificial tears may help. In more severe cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. In cases of lasting allergic infections, topical steroid eye drops might be tried.

Although pink eye is often a highly treatable eye infection, it can sometimes deteriorate into a more serious problem. Any time you think you have conjunctivitis, be certain to see your optometrist in order to determine how to best to treat it.