Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is a common infection of the eye, especially among children. It's generally a minor infection that goes away on its own after a few days.
In most instances, conjunctivitis is caused by a bacterial or viral infection. It can also be triggered by an allergic reaction and be present along with symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose. In rare instances, chemical exposure can cause conjunctivitis, and sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause conjunctivitis in newborn babies and others.
Symptoms of Conjunctivitis
The most telltale sign of conjunctivitis is a pink or red tinge to the eye. This will often appear in one eye when the infection is bacterial and both eyes if the cause is viral or allergic. In addition, the eyes may swell, itch, burn and leak pus in many instances. You may feel like you have something foreign in your eye and have the urge to rub it. You also may have accompanying flu, cold or allergy-like symptoms not related to the eyes.
Treatment and Prevention of Conjunctivitis
The treatment for conjunctivitis will vary based on its cause. Bacterial conjunctivitis, for example, can be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments and usually improves within a few days. For viral and allergic conjunctivitis, the best approach is to soothe the eyes with eye drops and cool compresses, but these bouts of conjunctivitis typically have to run their course.
If conjunctivitis is allergic in nature, identifying and avoiding the offending allergens might be your best bet. The other forms of conjunctivitis are highly contagious, so you can prevent spreading them by practicing good hygiene. Wash and shower regularly, avoid touching and rubbing your eyes and abstain from using other people’s personal makeup and other products that touch their face.
SOURCES: American Optometric Association; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention