Pink eye is a fairly common term that refers to general eye diseases. This eye problem has multiple causes, symptoms, types, and treatments. Pink eye is usually a mild infection, but it can have serious effects on your eyes. Because of this, it is important to understand which type of pink eye you have, how it was caused, and how to treat it.
What is Pink Eye?
Conjunctivitis, or pink eye as it is typically referred to, is a common eye disease. Bacteria, viruses, or allergens can enter your eyes for multiple reasons and aggravate them which can cause the allergic reaction or infection. Pink eye occurs when bacteria irritates the conjunctiva, or the thin lining that protects the white part of your eye. Because Conjunctivitis is usually accompanied by several obvious and bothersome symptoms, the infection is easy to diagnose. Although symptoms can be concerning in more serious cases, pink eye is often simple to treat and usually goes away in a few weeks with proper care.
When experiencing pink eye, several symptoms can be present depending on which type of pink eye you have. Here are some typical pink eye symptoms:
- Eyes that are notably red and inflamed
- Enlarged blood vessels in the eye
- Overactive tear ducts
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Burning eyes
- Puffy or swollen eyelids
- Eyelids that are crusted shut
- Discharge that leaks out of the eyes
There are three main types of pink eye that occur. Each type has different symptoms, causes, and treatments.
- Viral Conjunctivitis - This form of pink eye is highly contagious and can be hard to treat. Usually, a viral infection is contained to one eye, but the infection can spread to both eyes if you are not careful. This type typically occurs when your body is fighting a virus which means that sometimes medication won’t be able to alleviate your symptoms.
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis - This type of infection is contagious and is often marked by sticky white or yellow discharge. It can also be accompanied by an ear infection. Bacterial pink eye is most common in children because of poor hygiene practices and proximity to other kids daily.
- Allergic Conjunctivitis - This form is less common and is not contagious. When allergens, like pollen, come into contact with sensitive eyes, an allergic reaction can occur that resembles pink eye. Red and itchy eyes are the most common symptoms, but eyes can appear puffy too.
There are a number of ways you can contract conjunctivitis. A virus that infects the body and spreads to the eye is the most common cause of pink eye. If a virus is not the culprit, a bacterial infection usually is. Bacteria can produce pink eye when one person comes into contact with someone else who has pink eye. The bacteria is transferred to the person’s hands, and if they are not cleaned, the infection can spread to the person’s eyes and sinuses. Allergies that result from various allergens can also irritate eyes and create pink eye. Lastly, contacts lenses that are worn without being cleaned properly can also be a source of pink eye.
How to Treat Pink Eye
If the infection is caused by a virus, it can sometimes be treated with antiviral medication, but there is not a universal treatment for conjunctivitis. When pink eye is caused by bacteria, serious cases can be treated with antibiotics or medicated eye drops, but minor cases usually go away on their own. Allergic Conjunctivitis can be treated with allergy medication.
While medications can be effective, pink eye does not require treatment to subside. Like many illnesses that affect the body, pink eye usually goes away on its own. Artificial tears can help alleviate symptoms and do not require you to take medications. Another trick to ease symptoms is to place a cold rag on top of the infected area. Infections caused by pink eye can dissolve within a few days or a few weeks.
Symptoms that persist for longer than a few weeks could signify a more serious eye problem. If your symptoms continue or worsen, schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist or an optometrist. These doctors specialize in eye care and will be able to determine the cause of the symptoms.