It comes on like a thief in the night. In the morning there are the dreaded tell-tale signs: greenish-yellow discharge, red-rimmed and bloodshot eyes. Known clinically as conjunctivitis, pink eye is a highly contagious infection that spreads from person to person with unrelenting ease. It can be a parent’s worst nightmare, especially in the days following a sleep-over or summer camp outbreak. Small children pass the infection around in school and daycare settings where little hands touch everything and everyone. Pink eye is spread by direct contact, which is why young children, teachers, and daycare workers are common victims. In fact, pink eye can be spread by indirect contact as well as direct contact, so touching an item after someone infected with pink eye touches it is enough to get it. What is pink-eye? Simply put, it is the inflammation of the conjunctiva, another name for the thin, clear tissue that covers the whites of the eyes and the inside of the eyelid.
Symptoms of pink eye include itchy, watery eyes. Light sensitivity is another sign of pink eye. While there are a variety of conditions that can cause redness and inflammation, the term “pink eye” most often refers to the viral infection. Technically, the condition can be caused by bacterial infection or allergies, but the term usually applies to the highly contagious viral variety. Diagnosis requires a visit to the doctor, and the condition must be cleared up completely before returning to school or daycare.
For many people, parents and adult patients alike, noticing the symptoms of pink eye bring on a lot of questions about diagnosis, treatment, and contaminations. The following commonly asked questions may help provide the answers.
Q: Can pink eye be present in just one eye?
A: Pink eye can appear first in just one eye, but can quickly spread to the other eye.
Q: Is pink eye dangerous?
A: Pink eye is a common condition especially in young children. However, it should be quickly addressed by a medical professional. Pink eye can become serious in newborns.
Q: How can pink eye be prevented?
A: Hand-washing is one of the most important factors in preventing the spread of pink eye, especially after direct contact with the eyes. Washing towels, blankets, and soft toys after contact with an infected person is another way to help stem the spread. Additional steps include immediately disposing of tissues, cotton balls, or cotton swabs after use on an infected person.
Q: What is the treatment for pink eye?
A: Antibiotic eye drops are the most commonly prescribed treatment for pink eye. Be sure the tip of the eye drop bottle never comes into direct contact with the infected eye when applying the eye drops.
Q: How can schools or daycare facilities prevent the spread of pink eye?
A: Frequent hand-washing, disinfecting toys and hard surfaces including door knobs, bathroom fixtures, countertops, desks, and chairs will go a long way to prevent the spread of pink eye.
Q: Is pink eye spread in the swimming pool?
A: Pink eye can be spread to healthy eyes after contact with water in a pool or a bathtub after an infected person.
Q: What about contact lenses? Are there special precautions for people who wear contacts?
A: Contact lens wearers should remove their contacts and rely on glasses if they suspect a pink eye infection. Further precaution should be taken to remove contacts before swimming or dipping into a hot tub to prevent pink eye infections in the future.
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