Also Known as ‘Pinkeye’
Pinkeye, the common name for conjunctivitis, is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the outer, normally clear covering of the sclera, and the white part of the eye. The eye appears pink in conjunctivitis because the blood vessels are dilated. Pinkeye is often accompanied by a discharge, but vision is usually normal, and discomfort is mild.
Types of Conjunctivitis
Either a bacterial or a viral infection may cause conjunctivitis. Viruses, which are more common and last several weeks, may cause an upper respiratory infection (or cold) at the same time. Unlike viruses, bacterial conjunctivitis is treated with a variety of antibiotic eye drops or ointments, which usually cure the infection in a day or two.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis include:
- Redness of the eyes or eyelids
- Swollen eyelids
- Frequent tearing up
Conjunctivitis can be very contagious. If you show symptoms, don’t share towels or pillowcases, and wash your hands frequently. You may need to stay home from school or work.
It Might Not Be Pink Eye
Not everyone with conjunctivitis has an infection. Allergies can cause conjunctivitis too. Typically, people with allergic conjunctivitis have itchy eyes, especially in spring and fall. Eye drops to control itching are used to treat allergic conjunctivitis. It is important not to use medications that contain steroids (they usually end in “-one” or “-dex”) unless prescribed by an ophthalmologist.
Finally, not everyone with pinkeye has conjunctivitis. Sometimes more serious diseases, such as infections, damage to the cornea, very severe glaucoma, or inflammation on the inside of the eye cause the conjunctiva to become inflamed and pink.
Vision is usually normal if the pinkeye is really conjunctivitis. If your vision is affected, or if the problem does not get better in a few days, see an ophthalmologist.