Pinkeye Symptoms (Conjunctivitis)

By:    Published: February 2, 2012

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Pinkeye, also known as conjunctivitis, is a relatively common health condition. Fortunately, it is usually harmless, but it’s helpful to know any dangerous signs and symptoms to watch out for. In addition, there are plenty of ways to treat this condition so that it clears up more quickly.

Definition

Pinkeye is an inflammation or infection of the transparent membrane of the eye, which lines the eyelid and part of the eyeball. Because this membrane is called the conjunctiva, pinkeye is known by the medical term conjunctivitis. When the inflammation occurs, it causes the blood vessels in the conjunctiva to become more noticeable. This leads the whites of the eyes to look pink or reddish in color.

Symptoms

Pinkeye is most commonly associated with the following symptoms:

  • A reddish or pink color in the whites of the eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • A gritty feeling in the eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Died, crusty discharge around the eyes after sleeping
  • Tearing eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye pain

Keep in mind that pinkeye can affect one or both of the eyes, so the aforementioned symptoms may only affect one of the eyes in some cases.

Causes And Risk Factors

Pinkeye can be caused by several potential factors. Among the possible causes of conjunctivitis are:

  • A virus or bacteria: Usually, viral conjunctivitis produces a watery discharge, while bacterial conjunctivitis typically produces a thicker discharge that is yellowish-green in color. A cold or a respiratory infection often occurs with these types of pinkeye.
  • Allergies: Allergic conjunctivitis always occurs in both eyes. It develops as a response to exposure to an allergen, such as pollen or dust. It is often one of several allergic responses to an allergen, along with other symptoms like sneezing.
  • Irritation: A foreign object in the eye or chemicals getting into the eye are other common causes of pinkeye. The irritation caused by the foreign object or chemicals causes the eyes to become red or pink in color. It is often accompanied by watery eyes and a mucous discharge.
  • Blocked tear duct: Newborns can also get pinkeye from a blocked tear duct.

There are certain risk factors which increase an individual’s chances of getting conjunctivitis. Those with allergies are more likely to get pinkeye, especially when they are exposed to the allergen. A person’s risk for conjunctivitis is also increased significantly by being around someone with pinkeye. Finally, wearing extended-wear contact lenses may increase the chances of getting conjunctivitis.

(To learn more about problems with contact lenses, read Dangers Of Contact Lenses And Avoiding Complications.)

Pinkeye is considered to be very contagious. Pinkeye spreads when infected people touch their eye and then touch other things. Infections can spread between people or from an inanimate object to a person. The following reflect scenarios of how bacterial and viral pinkeye spread.

  • Scenario 1: You go to the gym to use a piece of equipment. Earlier in the day, someone with pinkeye rubbed their eyes and then touched the gym equipment. You then rub your eyes while removing sweat from your face.
  • Scenario 2: Your friend with pinkeye shakes your hand. She rubbed her eyes about five minutes ago. You then rub your eyes.
  • Scenario 3: You pick up a pen off the ground. The person who used it last had pinkeye and touched his eyes before touching the pen. You then rub your eyes.

Prevention

The best way to prevent pinkeye is to practice good hygiene. That includes washing your hands often and making sure you use clean towels, pillowcases, towels and washcloths. You should also make sure you avoid sharing any eye cosmetics, like mascara, or other personal eye-care items. If you wear contacts, be sure to follow directions regarding caring for your contacts and when to dispose of them. You can also avoid touching your eyes with your hands until you have the chance to wash them directly before doing so.

(To learn more about the importance of hand sanitization, read How To Properly Wash Your Hands.)

If you have pinkeye, you should also try to prevent spreading it to others by undergoing proper treatment and practicing the good hygiene habits described above. Children are often required to stay home from school when they have pinkeye to prevent the spread of this health condition.

Treatment

It’s very important to get treated for conjunctivitis as soon as possible since it is a highly contagious health condition. Proper treatment can help those around you from contracting pinkeye. In addition, pinkeye can lead to inflammation of the cornea, which can affect your vision. Treatment for pinkeye is determined on a case-by-case basis.

  • With bacterial conjunctivitis, an antibiotic medication is typically prescribed by a doctor. This medication is usually taken in the form of eye drops, though some children are treated with antibiotic eye ointment.
  • Meanwhile, viral conjunctivitis is usually treated only with mild antibiotic eye drops to prevent bacterial conjunctivitis. Otherwise, pinkeye caused by a virus will usually disappear on its own. With both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, a warm compress applied to closed eyes can help relieve some of the symptoms.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis, on the other hand, is usually given an allergy treatment such as antihistamines, decongestants or steroids. In some cases, it is cleared up simply by removing the allergen causing the outbreak. A cool compress may help to soothe the symptoms of this type of conjunctivitis.

The treatments described above should cause the symptoms to clear up in just a few days. Viral conjunctivitis is an exception, with the virus sometimes requiring two or three weeks to run its course. Consult your doctor to find out which types of pinkeye you have and how to properly treat it.

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