If you’ve ever experienced red, itchy eyes, you may have wondered if you are experiencing common allergies or a more serious eye infection called conjunctivitis, or pink eye. The good news is that while pink eye looks bad, it is typically more inconvenient than serious, and it will rarely cause issues with your vision. Here’s what you need to know about pink eye symptoms and how to treat them.
What Causes Pink Eye?
First, a little biology—the conjunctiva is a thin, clear tissue that covers the white part of your eye and lines the inside of your eyelid. When this tissue gets irritated or exposed to bacteria or a virus, a variety of symptoms can occur.
- Viruses, such as the common cold
- Allergic reaction to eyedrops
- Allergic reaction to pollen, smoke or dust
- Contact lens allergy
- Foreign body in the eye
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – could be dangerous and lead to vision loss
- Birth when mother is suffering with Gonorrhea or Chlamydia – can affect baby’s vision
Symptoms of Pink Eye
Depending on if you have viral or bacterial pink eye, you may experience different symptoms. In addition, only one eye may be affected at first.
- Redness in the whites of eyes
- Watery eyes
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Itchy eyes
- Itchy and/or runny nose
- Thick, yellowish discharge
- Crusty eyelashes, especially when you wake up
- Burning eyes
- Blurred vision
- Light sensitivity
Once you have conjunctivitis, or pink eye, it’s most important to prevent spreading the disease to others. Pink eye is highly contagious and is common in children but can also be spread among adults. Pink eye can be spread by contacting an object that someone has touched after touching their eye, then touching your own eye. Here are some tips to help prevent spreading pink eye.
- Don’t touch or rub your eyes. Use a soft tissue to wipe.
- Keep your hands to yourself.
- If you do touch your eyes, wash your hands with soap and water before touching anything else.
- Change or wash your pillowcase daily in hot water.
- Separate your towels and bedding from other laundry and wash in hot water.
- Disinfect any contaminated surfaces.
- Don’t share any eyewear.
- Don’t share any eye makeup.
- Don’t share eye drops.
- Stay away from school, daycare, work, church or other close quarters with other people.
- If you have contacts, wear glasses. You may use contacts once your condition has cleared.
- Don’t put a patch over your eye.
If your eyes become crusted over, don’t force your eyelids open and don’t try to remove the crustiness by hand. Simply prepare a warm compress (paper towel or cotton ball) and let it sit over each eye until you can open them. Then, gently dab each eye to remove any remaining residue. Be sure to throw away your compress immediately, then wash your hands right away.
Pink Eye Treatment
Pink eye has been known to spread rapidly throughout daycare centers and schools. And, if not careful, pink eye can also easily spread from child to parent and to other family members and friends.
The treatment for pink eye can depend on the cause. It may simply run its course, or you may need to use antibiotic drops, ointment or pills. If your pink eye is caused by an irritant, you may only need to rinse your eye thoroughly to remove the foreign substance.
When to Call Your Doctor
In most cases, pink eye is easily treated at home. However, symptoms similar to pink eye can also be caused by other eye issues, such as seasonal allergies, iritis, a sty, chalazion (inflammation of the gland along the eyelid) or blepharitis (inflammation or infection of the skin along the eyelid). If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, see your optometrist as soon as possible.
- Eye pain
- Excessive yellow or green discharge
- Obvious change in vision
- Vision loss
- High fever
- Facial pain
- If your condition doesn’t improve within 2 weeks
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