Pink Eye

Pink Eye Overview

Pink eye is an inflammation of the conjunctiva (the covering of the eyeball and inside of the eyelid). This inflammation may lead to redness, tearing, discharge, itching, and pain. Pinkeye is also called conjunctivitis.

Pink Eye Causes

Pink eye is a nonmedical term that encompasses several medical causes of conjunctivitis.

Most eye doctors would probably associate the term pink eye with mild conjunctivitis caused by bacteria or virus.

Other causes of conjunctivitis include allergic reaction, and chemical irritation.

Pink Eye Symptoms

Mild redness. discharge, and itching are common symptoms of pink eye. Sometimes, it feels like there's something in the eye. Other symptoms of pink eye include:

  • Eyelids stuck shut when you wake up in the morning (the classic symptom)
    • Uncomfortable, thick yellow or green discharge (often a bacterial infection)
    • Thin, clear drainage from the eye (often a viral infection or an allergic reaction)
    • Itching, burning, or feeling like there's sand in your eye (often a viral infection or an allergic reaction)
  • Family member with the same symptoms (indicating that an infection is being passed from one person to another)
  • A recent cold (often a viral infection)
  • Swollen lymph nodes (often a viral infection)

When to Seek Medical Care for Pink Eye

Do not assume that all red, irritated, or swollen eyes are pink eye (viral conjunctivitis). Your symptoms could also be caused by seasonal allergies, a sty, iritis, chalazion (an inflammation of the gland along the eyelid), or blepharitis (an inflammation or infection of the skin along the eyelid). These conditions are not contagious. Pink eye, if caused by a virus, is highly contagious.

Call your eye doctor if any of the following symptoms develop. Your eye doctor may advise you to come into the office to be seen immediately. If you cannot reach your eye doctor, go to the hospital's emergency department.

  • If there is yellow or green discharge from your eye or if your eyelids are stuck together in the morning
  • If you have high fever, shaking chills, face pain, or vision loss
  • If you have severe pain in your eye when you look into a bright light
  • If you have blurred vision, have double vision, or see rings of light (halos) around objects

If symptoms remain mild but the redness does not improve within two weeks, a consultation with an eye doctor is necessary. The doctor will determine if eye drops or ointments are needed or, in more serious cases, oral or intravenous antibiotics.

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Questions to Ask the Doctor About Pink Eye

If you've been diagnosed with pink eye, you might want to ask your doctor these questions:

  • Is my pink eye contagious?
  • If my pink eye is contagious, how do I avoid spreading it?
  • Do I need to stay home from work or school?

Exams and Tests for Pink Eye

A history and a physical exam usually leads to a diagnosis of pink eye. If a bacterial infection is possible, your eye doctor may send some of the drainage from your eye to the laboratory to help identify the bacteria. Do not be alarmed if a more extensive physical exam is required to search for other causes of conjunctivitis.

Pink Eye Treatment at Home

Prevent spreading pink eye to the other eye and to other people. Pink eye can be very contagious, so limit your contacts until you are better.

  • Carefully wash your hands every time you touch around your eye.
  • Keep your own towels, washcloths, and pillows separate from others or use paper towels.
  • Wash or change your pillowcase every day until the infection goes away.
  • Do not touch your infected eye with your fingers. Use tissues to wipe.
  • Do not wear eye makeup. Do not share eye makeup.
  • Do not wear contact lenses until the infection is gone.
  • Put a warm compress, such as a washcloth soaked in warm water, on your eye for a few minutes, three to four times a day. This eases the pain and helps break up some of the crust that may form on your eyelashes.
  • Use over-the-counter artificial tears to help with itching and irritation. Do not share eye drops. You can spread the infection to anyone else who uses them.
  • Do not put a patch over your eye. It may cause the infection to become worse.
  • Do not use eye drops for more than a few days unless instructed to do so by your eye doctor. Worsening redness could result from repeated use of such products.

Medical Treatment for Pink Eye

If you have pink eye, your eye doctor may prescribe an eye drop or ointment to help control the swelling and pain and to help prevent spread of the infection and further damage to your eye.

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Follow-Up Care for Pink Eye

Your eye doctor may have you return in several days to make sure your pink eye is improving with the medication prescribed.

Many children with pink eye are not allowed to attend school until they receive clearance from their doctor.

Hospital workers with pink eye who come in contact with people who are sick may be placed in another job until the infection is gone.

Pink Eye Prevention

Pink eye can spread in areas where people live, work, and play closely together. If you are around someone with pink eye, wash your hands thoroughly and often. And don't touch or rub your own eyes.

  • Daycare and preschools will often not take a child with pink eye for fear of infecting other children.
  • Laboratories where people share microscopes are also places where infection can spread.
  • People who share computer keyboards with others at work must be careful to wash their hands before they touch around their faces, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Bedding, towels, and personal items that come in contact with secretions should not be shared. Wash and change sheets and pillowcases every day.
  • Makeup should not be shared.
  • Eye drops should not be shared among individuals; otherwise, the infection can spread.

Outlook for Pink Eye

If caused by a virus, pink eye gets better over time with or without treatment. When care is taken to prevent its spread and follow-up is done, pink eye clears up with no long-term problems.

  • Pink eye (viral conjunctivitis) usually goes away in 10-14 days, but symptoms may last for up to six weeks.
  • Damage to the cornea (the clear covering over the iris) may occur if severe infections are not treated.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on January 24, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "Pink Eye: Usually Mild and Easy to Treat."

Mayo Clinic: "Pink eye (conjunctivitis)."

KidsHealth.org: "Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis)."
 

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