Though it may sound scary, pink eye (conjunctivitis) is a common eye problem that can be treated easily. And if a few precautions are taken, it can be avoided.

While just about anybody can develop pink eye, children and their caregivers are particularly at risk. Here are a few things you should know about pink eye.

What exactly is pink eye?

Both infectious and non-infectious causes can lead to pink eye. It is the inflammation of the conjunctiva and the thin covering of the white of the eye.

The conjunctiva contains numerous tiny blood vessels. An inflammation of the conjunctiva may cause these blood vessels to dilate. It is this reaction that causes the red, bloodshot eyes.

Pink eye can have many different causes. Pink eye caused by viruses are highly contagious.

Causes of pink eye

Bacterial conjunctivitis

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria. It cannot be left untreated because it can cause permanent damage to the eyes.

One of the most important symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis is the sticky, yellow discharge that may make it difficult to open the eyes when you wake up in the morning. One or both eyes can be affected by bacterial conjunctivitis. Just like viral conjunctivitis, bacterial conjunctivitis is also highly contagious.

Viral conjunctivitis

Just like common cold, viral conjunctivitis is caused by viruses. This is highly contagious, but it normally does not require medical treatment. Viral conjunctivitis may cause itchy, watery eyes. It can affect one or both eyes.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by irritants such as dust, pollen and animal dander. Allergic conjunctivitis will affect both eyes. It is not contagious. Symptoms include watery, itchy and burning eyes. These symptoms may also be accompanied by a runny nose. Light sensitivity is another common symptom.

How to treat pink eye

Treatment depends on the kind of pink eye you have.

Viral pink eye will usually clear up on its own. No special treatments are required. To ease the discomfort, you can apply a cold, washcloth over the eyelids.

Bacterial conjunctivitis requires medical treatment. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or ointments. If left untreated bacterial conjunctivitis may lead to corneal ulcer. This can even cause permanent vision loss.

Allergy medications can reduce the severity of allergic conjunctivitis.

By simply looking at the symptoms, it is difficult to tell what type of pink eye you have. If you develop red, itchy eyes, do not hesitate to call your doctor because only a specialist can determine whether you need treatment or not.