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Pink Eye: Types and Treatments

Pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, is a frequently encountered eye illness, especially with children. It can be caused by bacteria, a virus or even hypersensitivity to chlorine in pools, pollen, and ingredients in cosmetics, or other chemicals that touch your eyes. Many forms of pink eye are quite communicable and easily spread in schools and in the office or home.

Conjunctivitis ensues when the conjunctiva, or thin clear layer of tissue lining the white part of the eye, becomes inflamed. A sign that you have the infection is if you notice redness, discharge, itching or inflamed eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes early in the day. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. Pink eye infections can be divided into three main categories: viral, bacterial and allergic conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis is usually a result of a similar virus to that which produces the familiar watery and red eyes, runny nose and sore throat of the common cold. The red, itchy, watery eyes caused by the viral form of conjunctivitis will usually stick around for one to two weeks and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. Applying compresses to your eyes in a dark room may provide some relief. Viral conjunctivitis is transmittable until it's gone, so in the meantime wipe away eye discharge and avoid sharing towels or pillowcases. If your child has viral pink eye, you will need to keep him/her at home from school from school for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.

Bacterial pink eye is caused by a common bacterial infection that gets into the eye often from an external object entering the eye that carries the bacteria, such as a dirty finger. This type of pink eye is usually treated with antibiotic cream or drops. One should see the symptoms disappearing after just a few days of treatment, but always be sure to complete the entire course of antibiotics to stop pink eye from returning.

Allergic pink eye is not transmittable. It occurs more commonly in people who already have seasonal allergies or allergies to substances such as pets or dust. The red, itchy, watery eyes may be just a small part of their overall allergic reaction. The first step in alleviating allergic pink eye is to eliminate or avoid the irritant, when applicable. Use cool compresses and artificial tears to alleviate discomfort in mild cases. In more severe cases, your optometrist may decide to prescribe a medication such as an anti-inflammatory or antihistamine. In cases of persistent allergic pink eye, steroid eye drops might be tried.

Conjunctivitis should always be examined by a professional eye doctor to identify the cause and best course of treatment. Don't ever treat yourself! Don't forget the sooner you start treatment, the less likelihood you have of spreading conjunctivitis to loved ones or suffering longer than you have to.