Picture this: a person wakes to an aching eye, crusted shut with hardened mucus on the eyelids, and an itch that is hard to ignore. The eye cannot be opened without effort and the entire area around the eye socket hurts. Chances are they are suffering from pink eye, a very common eye condition, often caused by an infection. This condition is also called conjunctivitis since it affects the conjunctiva, the thin covering of the white part of the eye. The eye becomes a recognizable and visible red, hence the name 'pink eye', and usually leaks a stream of thick mucus to indicate infection or irritation of the eye.
Most people have either had this condition or known someone to suffer from this condition at least once in their lives. It requires the infected person to miss work or school in order to prevent further spread of the disease until the treatment has been applied for a certain amount of time. While uncomfortable and inconvenient, pink eye is easily treatable with a doctor's care and needn't last long with prompt and proper treatment. Conjunctivitis has a number of causes including other viruses, irritants in the environment, and allergies. A health practitioner can make a diagnosis using a list of symptoms and a health history.
Conjunctivitis can be caused by a number of factors, usually, things in the environment which may irritate the conjunctiva and make it vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. This condition may occur in people who work in conditions with a lot of particles in the air but do not use goggles as eye protection. Pink eye, while it is highly contagious and can be spread easily in the absence of proper hand washing procedures, is not usually a dangerous condition. Children are especially susceptible, and it can be easily spread through daycares and schools. Because of its contagious nature, people should be separated until treatment is provided. Babies that may have conjunctivitis should be seen by a doctor immediately to prevent any damage to the eyes. When pink eye is caused by a virus, the only treatment is to let it run its course, while following quarantine procedure to stop its spread and being very careful with handwashing procedures. Bacterial conjunctivitis is treatable with medication applied to the infected eye and clears quickly with treatment.
For some, the symptoms of pink eye are rather obvious. The most common symptoms affect the eyes. People should look out for the following symptoms:
Q: How do I know I have pink eye?
A: Aside from very pronounced symptoms of mucus, itching, and the reddening of the sclera, pink eye can be diagnosed by any healthcare practitioner. They will give you the recommended course of treatment. This treatment may change after the results of lab tests.
Q: What is pink eye caused by?
A: Pink eye can be caused by viruses, bacteria, allergies, or environmental irritants. Many cases of conjunctivitis are bacterial since allergies and irritants allow the eye to become infected. An injury to the eye may also cause pink eye but the disease may also be a symptom of something else.
Q: When should I call a doctor?
A: A doctor should be involved as soon as pinkeye is suspected since the cause will determine the treatment. Pink eye may also be the symptom of other diseases that can only be revealed with medical testing at a doctor's office.
Q: Can pink eye endanger my vision?
A: Not usually. It is an easily treatable condition that is irritating but will not damage vision with treatment. However, it is recommended to see a doctor as soon as possible to prevent further complications and to determine the cause of the condition.
Q: What is the treatment for pink eye?
A: If a virus is a cause, the only treatment is time and quarantine until the stage of contagion has passed. Be sure to wash hands thoroughly and do not share hand towels. Bacterial conjunctivitis is usually treated with eye drops that are applied daily to the eye. Once this treatment has begun, a person is no longer contagious after a specified amount of time and can return to regular activities as prescribed by their health provider.
Q: How can I treat the symptoms at home?
A: A warm washcloth applied to the eye and surrounding area should help with the mucus discharge and soothe the ache. If a warm compress does not appear to ameliorate the symptoms, try a cool compress. This may be especially helpful in the case of pink eye caused by allergies.