You’ve probably seen the zombie-eyed appearance of someone with pinkeye before. Maybe you were the unlikely victim to fall prey to this contagious little infection. Pinkeye is perhaps one of the most common eye problems seen in individuals but, fortunately, it is also one of the most easily treated.
Pinkeye, known more scientifically as conjunctivitis, is the inflammation of the thin, clear tissue called conjunctiva which lines the inside of your eyelid and the white part of the eyeball. This inflammation can cause a great deal of irritation to your eyes, resulting in more visible blood vessels and, thus, a “pink eye”.
There are two kinds of pink eye – one caused by irritants and allergens which is non-contagious and one, perhaps more prevalent due to its high rate of contagion, caused by bacteria or viruses.
Viral conjunctivitis can be viewed as the eye’s version of a cold. It is contagious like a cold and can be spread through coughing and sneezing, like a cold. However, also like a cold, it tends to clear up on its own within a few days. If needed, a cool, wet cloth can be applied to the eyes to help alleviate some of the symptoms. Symptoms for a viral infection like this would normally be watery, itchy eyes that are bloodshot and may feel “gritty” (like there’s sand in your eyes). However, you should not see significant discharge from the eye. If you do, you are more likely to be suffering from bacterial conjunctivitis.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is the most severe case of pinkeye and can lead to permanent eye damage if it is not treated appropriately. You will usually have substantial discharge from your eyes, usually a greenish-yellow colour and sometimes in such high amounts that your eyelids may get “glued” together. You will want to seek medical treatment as soon as possible if you experience these symptoms; your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics in the form of eye drops or ointments. This type of pinkeye is also very contagious and is usually passed through direct contact (i.e. rubbing your eyes and then touching someone’s hand) so it is very important to keep your hands away from your face and wash, wash, wash!
If you think you or your child may have pinkeye, it is important to determine the culprit of the attack. It may not be one of the contagious forms, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Seek medical attention as soon as you can and try to stay away from public environments (i.e. work and school). Although pinkeye is common and not usually severe, its symptoms can mimic those of more acute eye problems so it is always important to seek professional medical attention.