Pink eye or conjunctivitis is a very common and very contagious bacterial or viral infection of the eye.
Conjunctivitis describes a group of diseases that cause swelling, itching, burning, and redness of the conjunctiva, the protective membrane that lines the eyelids and covers exposed areas of the sclera, or white of the eye. Especially in children, it is seen as a greenish, crusty coating on the outside of the eyelids that often “fuses” the eye(s) shut as it dries during sleep.
Conjunctivitis can spread from one person to another and affects millions of Americans at any given time. Conjunctivitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, allergens, environmental irritants, a contact lens product, eyedrops, or eye ointments.
At its onset, conjunctivitis is usually painless and does not adversely affect vision. The infection will clear in most cases without requiring medical care. At the first sign of infection, try one or more of the following treatments.
1. Apply a clean washcloth soaked in warm water (no soap) to the eye or eyes. Rinse the washcloth often in clean water. If only one eye is infected, do not use the washcloth on the uninfected eye and do not allow others to use the washcloth. Conjunctivitis can easily be transferred in this manner.
2. Stop using irritants that may affect your eye(s), such as contact lenses, eye drops, facial soaps, or eye makeup. If eye makeup such as mascara or eyeliner was used during an infection, you may need to throw it away.
In many forms of conjunctivitis, especially in children, medical treatment is necessary. If treatment is delayed, the infection may worsen and cause corneal inflammation and in worse cases, loss of vision. After a thorough eye exam, the physician will most likely prescribe antibiotic drops that will be applied directly in the infected eye(s) two or three times a day.
Note: Do not share antibiotic drops. Sharing the drops may cause reinfection or continued infection in others since the dropper itself can come in contact with the virus or bacteria. The drops should be discarded after the infection has cleared to prevent future reinfections.