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Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis: The Truth Behind Pink-Eye

Most of us have a specific picture in our head when we hear the word conjunctivitis. We think of red, itchy, goopy eyes. But is that all conjunctivitis is? Or is there more to it than that?

Conjunctivitis (also known as red-eye or pink-eye) actually just refers to an inflammation of the conjunctiva; the thin mucous membrane covering the eye.

This inflammation can come from a variety of sources and present a variety of symptoms. For this reason, it’s crucial you see a doctor to have your conjunctivitis officially diagnosed and treated. While it is rare, untreated cases of conjunctivitis can lead to vision loss. It’s better to see your doctor and have them tell you it’ll clear up on its own than to assume it will be fine and regret it for years.

There are a few different types of conjunctivitis.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

As the name suggests, this form of conjunctivitis occurs as an allergic reaction to environmental factors. Allergens like pet dander or pollen irritate the eyes, causing discomfort, swelling, and other unpleasant effects.

Symptoms

Patients often report extreme itching or burning in the eyes. The reaction usually appears in both eyes, causing redness, swelling, and watering. These symptoms often appear alongside other allergic reactions, such as sneezing or itching elsewhere on the body.

Treatment

The best way to avoid allergic reactions, and thus, allergic conjunctivitis is to avoid or remove the allergens triggering the symptoms. If this is not possible, however, there are a number of over the counter and prescribed allergy medications available to help relieve your symptoms. These medications are most effective if taken before encountering the allergens, allowing the medicine time to work. Before you start taking any new medications, consult your doctor.

This strain of conjunctivitis occurs when a virus comes into contact with the eyes. Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious, typically starting in one eye, and spreading to the other. The infection is commonly caused by the adenovirus (responsible for the common cold, pneumonia, and bronchitis) and the herpes simplex virus (responsible for cold sores and genital herpes). Once diagnosed with viral conjunctivitis, you should avoid contact with others, wash your sheets and pillowcases, and throw out any makeup you put on after the infection began to avoid spreading the infection or re-infecting yourself.

Symptoms

If you have viral conjunctivitis, you’ll likely experience very red, itchy, and watery eyes. There may be an unusual amount of eye discharge. You may also find your eyes are particularly sensitive to light.

Treatment

Your doctor may not prescribe any treatment, as viral conjunctivitis typically resolves on its own and usually is no longer contagious after 10 to 12 days. However, it’s important that you still see your doctor to get a diagnosis. You may be experiencing a different kind of infection which requires immediate care.

Bacterial strains of conjunctivitis can be particularly severe. These types of infections are brought on by bacteria getting in the eye, usually from the hands of the patient. It can also be a result of problems like ear or sinus infections.

Much like viral conjunctivitis, the bacterial strains are very contagious. You should wash any sheets or pillowcases immediately, and throw out any makeup used on the affected eye to avoid reintroducing the infection.

Symptoms

Patients with bacterial conjunctivitis experience extreme itching, burning, or stinging in the affected eye. The infection typically only occurs in one eye, which becomes red and swollen.

There is excessive discharge which is yellow or greenish and very sticky; some patients wake up to find their eye is sealed shut with the discharge. If this happens, you should moisten a clean towel with warm (not hot) water, and gently dab the eye until the crust starts to soften and come away.

Treatment

Your doctor will usually prescribe antibiotic eyedrops to resolve the infection. Over the counter eye drops are not recommended for bacterial conjunctivitis. It is crucial that you see a doctor so you may get an accurate diagnosis and pursue the right kind of treatment.

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