Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an infection of the outside of the eye. It is associated with the characteristic symptoms of;
- Burning, and
- Crusting of the eye lashes when awakening from sleep.
These symptoms are caused by an infection of the conjunctiva of the eye.
The conjunctiva is a thin membrane that covers the white area of the eye or sclera. During a pink eye infection this conjunctiva becomes infected and inflamed causing the symptoms and eye drainage. During sleep this eye drainage clumps around the eye lashes making opening the eye in the morning almost impossible without first cleaning the lashes.
What Causes Pink Eye?
Pink eye is caused by many of the same bacteria and viruses that are responsible for the common cold and infections such as:
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Sore throats, and even
Allergies and Chemical Substances
This type of reaction happens more frequently with children and adults who have problems with allergies:
- pet dander
- hay fever and
- grass and ragweed pollen.
There are also times when pink eye can be caused by a substance in the environment that irritates the eyes such as:
- smoke, and
During times when it is caused by allergies or a chemical substance the irritation is more common in both eyes and the discharge from the eye is usually clear and watery.
Pink Eye is Easy to Share
This condition is easily spread from person to person by touching an infected person’s hand after they have touched the infected eye, sharing towels, makeup or through coughing/sneezing if a person with a cold is present.
This pink eye or conjunctivitis can be caused by either bacteria or viruses. The infection most commonly starts in one eye but can easily be spread to the other eye by the infected person themselves.
Infrequently conjunctivitis can be seen in children with Kawasaki’s disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Treatments for Pink Eye
When pink eye is associated with a bacterial or viral infection it appears a couple of days after contact with the infected person or an object that was contaminated with the virus.
When the infection is caused by bacteria the condition is treated using antibiotics. Physicians may prescribe ointment or eye drops that are antibiotics but they don’t often prescribe a more systemic antibiotic that is taken by mouth. This is because the infection is usually localized to the eye and the antibiotics are most effective when placed in the area of the infection.
Parents of infants often find that ointment is easier to administer to babies than are eye drops.
If the pink eye is caused by a viral infection antibiotics will not be effective against the germs. In this case the treatment often consists of antihistamines to keep the eyes dry and help the itching and anti inflammatory medications to help the swelling in the eye. Patients often find that cold compresses are helpful to ease the discomfort.
Antibiotics are often used to help prevent a secondary infection in the eye as well. Although antibiotics aren’t effective against a viral eye infection they are helpful if a secondary bacterial infection set up shop with the virus.
Viral pink eye infections usually last from about seven to 10 days. Viral conjunctivitis tends to affect one eye while a bacterial or allergic cause will usually affect both eyes.
KidsHealth: Pinkeye http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/eye/conjunctivitis.html
MayoClinic: Pink eye http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pink-eye/DS00258
American Optometric Association: Conjunctivitis http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/eye-and-vision-problems/glossary-of-eye-and-vision-conditions/conjunctivitis
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Conjunctivitis http://www.cdc.gov/conjunctivitis/about/diagnosis.html
Cleveland Clinic: Conjunctivitis http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/conjunctivitis/hic_conjunctivitis.aspx
American Family Physician: Diagnosis and management of Red Eye in Primary Care http://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0115/p137.html
University of Illinois: Conjunctivitis http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/handouts/conjunctivitis/conjunctivitis.html