Conjunctivitis, often called “pink eye,” is an inflammation or swelling of the transparent tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid and covers the sclera, the white part of the eye.
People suffering from conjunctivitis report eye redness, itching, or tearing. Some feel that they have a foreign body in one or both eyes. Sometimes, there’s a discharge that may get crusty and keep them from being able to open their eyes after a night of sleep. In addition, they may experience light sensitivity.
There are a variety of causes for this eye infection, including:
- Viral conjunctivitis. Caused by a virus, such as the one that causes colds. This type and bacterial conjunctivitis can be very contagious.
- Bacterial conjunctivitis. Staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria from your own skin or respiratory system are common causes.
- Allergic conjunctivitis. Seasonal allergies often are the cause.
- Irritant conjunctivitis. Caused by simple irritation, dry eyes, the chlorine in swimming pools, pollution in the air, or exposure to toxic chemicals-such as tobacco smoke.
- Giant papillary conjunctivitis. Caused by contact lens irritation.
Risk factors for pink eye include exposure to someone who has the bacterial or viral form of conjunctivitis and exposure to an irritant or a substance to which you are allergic.
Extended use of contact lenses also puts one at risk for conjunctivitis.
Complications and When to See a Doctor
The inflammation in the eye can affect a person’s vision. It’s important to see a health care provider, such as the emergency dept., right away if you become overly sensitive to light, if you experience pain or feel that there’s grit or something stuck in your eye, or if you experience blurred vision.
There are several methods of treating conjunctivitis, depending on the cause. For infectious conjunctivitis, patients can only wait for a viral infection to run its course. They can get relief from eye drops and cold or warm compresses applied to the eyes. Cases of bacterial infection may be treated with antibiotics. Other treatments include:
- Antihistamine eye drops, available over the counter, work to reduce itching from allergies.
- Mast cell stabilizing eye drops prevent reactions to allergens in the eye by stopping the release of allergic chemical such as histamine by mast cells.
- Moisturizing or lubricating eye drops, sometimes known as “artificial tears” can relieve some symptoms.
- People who wear contact lenses will be instructed to take them out until the conjunctivitis is gone.
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