Conjunctivitis or pink eye is a relatively common eye problem that can be treated easily. In most cases by simply taking a few precautions it can be avoided. Conjunctivitis is highly contagious. Anybody can get it but schoolchildren, university students, day care providers and teachers are particularly at risk.
What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva (the inner area of the eyelids) and the thin covering of the white of the eye. The conjunctiva contains numerous blood vessels. If there is an inflammation these blood vessels will dilate and cause red, bloodshot eyes.
Conjunctivitis is usually caused by viruses. Viral conjunctivitis is quite common but it will usually go away on its own within a few days and doesn’t require medical treatment. On the other hand, bacterial conjunctivitis can cause major damage to the eyes if it is left untreated. Irritants like pollen, animal dander and dust may cause allergic conjunctivitis.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis
The most common symptom of conjunctivitis is eyes that have a pink appearance. The eyes may be sensitive to light, itchy and watery. The infection can affect one or both eyes; it can be spread by sneezing and coughing.
If the infection is caused by bacteria, you will notice sticky, yellow discharge in the corner of the eyes. In severe cases, this sticky discharge may make it difficult to open the eyes when you get up in the morning. Bacterial conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can be spread by direct contact with affected eyes. It requires treatment. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious. It may cause burning, watery and itchy eyes.
Treatment of Conjunctivitis
The treatment depends on the kind of conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis will usually run its course over several days. It does not require any medical treatment. Apply a wet washcloth to the eyes to relieve the symptoms. Make sure that you do not share your washcloth with anybody else because this form of conjunctivitis is highly contagious.
Bacterial conjunctivitis requires treatment. Your eye doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotic ointments or eye drops.
Allergic medications may help prevent allergic conjunctivitis. You will probably have to start these medications before allergy season.
It is not easy to determine what type of conjunctivitis you have by simply looking at the symptoms. That is why you need to consult your eye doctor as soon as you develop one or more symptoms of this eye infection.
Prevention of conjunctivitis
Here are some precautions you should take to reduce your risk of getting conjunctivitis.
- Wash your hands frequently. This will prevent the infection from getting spread.
- Don’t share personal items like towels or washcloths with others.
- Don’t rub or touch your eyes.
- Cover your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing.
- Never share your contact lenses with your friends.