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Pinkeye or conjunctivitis is a common and treatable eye condition where the conjunctiva—the transparent mucous membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and the eye surface—becomes inflamed. The condition may affect one or both eyes and may or may not require medical treatment, depending on the cause.
What Causes Pinkeye?
Pinkeye may be caused by any of the following:
- Physical or chemical irritants
What are the Symptoms of Pinkeye?
The symptoms of pinkeye may vary slightly depending on the cause, but the following are usually present:
- Itchiness and irritation
- Minor swelling
- Increased tear production
- Discharge (white, yellow or green)
- Gritty feeling
- Crust formation along the lash line
Make an appointment with your clinician if you notice one or more of these symptoms. This is especially important if you also:
- Wear contact lenses. Avoid any further use of your contact lenses once your symptoms begin.
- Have an impaired or otherwise weakened immune system.
- Experience blurred vision or sensitivity to light.
- Experience moderate to severe pain in the affected eye(s).
- Notice intense redness in the affected eye(s).
- Have vision in only one eye or other pre-existing eye conditions that may put you at risk of complications.
Viral conjunctivitis is commonly caused by an adenovirus or respiratory virus, which is why it is often associated with colds and sore throats; however, the herpes virus can also cause pinkeye. Symptoms unique to viral conjunctivitis include:
- Swollen or tender areas in front of the ears
- A watery to slightly thick, whitish discharge
Most cases of viral pinkeye last five to seven days; however, some can last up to three weeks and become chronic.
Like its viral counterpart, bacterial pinkeye can be associated with respiratory infections. Symptoms unique to bacterial pinkeye include:
- Mild pain
- A gray, yellow or yellow-green discharge
- Pseudoptosis or drooping of the upper eyelid as a result of swelling
Allergic conjunctivitis always affects both eyes and is often accompanied by tearing and eye inflammation. Sneezing, increased mucus production and itching are also often present. Common triggers include pollen, pet dander and dust mites.
Conjunctivitis Resulting from Irritation
Chemical irritants and foreign objects in the eye can also cause conjunctivitis. Even though most cases require little more than thorough and immediate flushing, the redness and irritation can linger for one or two days. A professional evaluation may be necessary, however, if one or more of the following symptoms are present:
- Severe pain
- Significant amounts of swelling
- Decreased vision
How Can Pinkeye Be Prevented?
Viral and bacterial pinkeye spread easily, but are also fairly easy to prevent. Good hygiene practices are the key to prevention. Below are some tips.
- Wash your hands before and after touching your eyes or face.
- Wash your hands before and after using eye medicine yourself or helping someone else apply eye medicine.
- Do not share towels, washcloths and linen.
- Do not share eye medicine.
- Do not share contact lens accessories and solutions.
- Do not share eye makeup.
Preventing pinkeye associated with irritation is a matter of protection. Wear goggles when swimming or safety glasses when working with chemicals. Eye protection will also be useful in dusty, windy and extremely hot or cold environments.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Early diagnosis and treatment are vital in helping prevent the spread of pinkeye. To determine whether your symptoms correspond with conjunctivitis, your clinician will ask a series of questions regarding their onset and severity and whether anything you do appears to alleviate or worsen them. Sometimes laboratory analysis and allergy testing may be called for.
If a patient has other allergy symptoms as well, using recommended/prescribed allergy medications such as oral antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers as ordered can help control eye symptoms.
Most cases of pinkeye run their course in about one or two weeks; however, treatments can be prescribed to ease the discomfort or speed up the healing process. Artificial tears and cool compresses can also help with discomfort. If that doesn’t work or eye symptoms are more severe, a clinician can prescribe eye drops with antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers.
If you or someone in your household is experiencing one or more symptoms of pinkeye, don’t delay. Schedule an appointment online to visit your nearest RediClinic. Our locations are open seven days a week, including most holidays and extended weekday hours.
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