Most parents have encountered the highly contagious inflammation known as “pink eye” at some point. Also known by its medical term of “conjunctivitis,” it is one of the most common and treatable eye conditions in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
While more common in children, adults can suffer from pink eye as well. It is an inflammation of the thin, clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid, called the conjunctiva, and the white part of the eyeball. When a person has pink eye, the inflammation makes the blood vessels more visible and gives an eye a “pink” or reddish color.
Symptoms may vary for those who have the inflammation, but they typically include:
- Redness or swelling of the white of the eye or inside the eyelids
- An increased amount of tears
- Eye discharge which may be clear, yellow, white, or green
- Itchy, irritated, and/or burning eyes
- Gritty feeling in the eye
- Crusting of the eyelids or lashes
- Contact lenses that feel uncomfortable and/or do not stay in place on the eye
The CDC warns that there are four main causes of conjunctivitis. They are: viruses, bacteria, allergens (such as dust mites or pet dander) and irritants (such as swimming pool chlorine or smog).
The CDC also indicates that it may be hard to figure out the exact cause of a case of pink eye, because the signs and symptoms are generally the same, no matter the cause.
When pink eye occurs, it’s important to wash hands often and to keep your hands away from the infected eye. That will help limit the spread.
When pink eye is caused by a virus or bacteria, it is very contagious. It can spread easily and quickly from person-to-person — especially in classrooms, for instance. If you have a case of pink eye caused by allergens or irritants, that type of conjunctivitis is not contagious.
To help limit the risk of catching pink eye from someone, or spreading it if you already have it, follow these steps:• • Wash hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds• Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes• Avoid sharing makeup, contact lenses and containers and eyeglasses
Depending on the severity, you may need to see your primary care provider for the treatment of pink eye. According to the CDC, consider making an appointment for treatment of your pink eye if you have:
- Moderate to severe pain in your eye(s)
- Sensitivity to light or blurred vision
- Intense redness in the eye(s)
- A weakened immune system, for example from HIV or cancer treatment
- Symptoms that get worse or don’t improve, including a bacterial pink eye that does not improve after 24 hours of antibiotic use
- Pre-existing eye conditions that may put you at risk for complications or severe infection
- An infant or newborn with symptoms of pink eye should see a healthcare provider immediately. A newborn with pink eye will have the same symptoms as an adult, but it is vital for a newborn to have a medical check-up if pink eye occurs.
If you are concerned at all about the causes and treatments of pink eye, or you’re not sure whether to see a physician, consider spending about four minutes listening to this CDC podcast:https://tools.cdc.gov/medialibrary/index.aspx#/media/id/303014.In the podcast, the CDC’s Dr. Adam Cohen, a pediatrician, discusses the inflammation and suggestions on when to call or visit a physician if you have pink eye.