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Optometric Insight: Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, also referred to as pink eye, is a frequently encountered eye illness, especially when it comes to kids. This infection can be caused by bacteria, viruses or even allergies to chlorine in swimming pools, ingredients found in cosmetics, and pollen, or other products that come into contact with the eyes. Certain forms of pink eye might be quite transmittable and quickly cause a conjunctivitis outbreak in school and in the home.

Pink eye occurs when the thin transparent layer of tissue that protects the white part of your eye, or conjunctiva, gets inflamed. A good clue that you have conjunctivitis is if you notice discharge, redness, itching or swollen eyelids and crusty eyes early in the day. Symptoms of pink eye may occur in one or both eyes. Pink eye infections can be divided into three basic sub-types: bacterial, allergic and viral conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis is often a result of the same virus that is the source of the familiar watery and red eyes, runny nose and sore throat of the common cold. The red, itchy, watery eyes caused by the viral form of pink eye will often last from a week to two and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. To relieve uncomfortable symptoms, compresses applied to the eyes will give you some relief. Viral pink eye is transmittable until it is completely cleared up, so meanwhile, practice excellent hygiene, wipe away any discharge and try to avoid sharing pillowcases or towels. If your son or daughter has viral pink eye, he or she will have to be kept home from school for three days to a week until it clears up.

Bacterial pink eye is caused by a common bacterial infection that gets into the eye often from something outside entering the eye that carries the bacteria, such as a dirty finger. This form of pink eye is most often treated with antibiotic cream or drops. Most often one should notice the symptoms disappearing within just a few days of treatment, but always make sure to take the entire course of antibiotics to prevent pink eye from recurring.

Allergic pink eye is not transmittable. It is usually a result of a known allergy such as hay fever or pet allergies that triggers an allergic reaction in their eyes. The first step in alleviating allergic pink eye is to eliminate the allergen, when applicable. Try cool compresses and artificial tears to relieve discomfort in mild cases. When the infection is more severe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. When the infection persists for a long time, steroid eye drops could be prescribed.

Conjunctivitis should always be diagnosed by an experienced optometrist to identify the cause and proper course of treatment. Don't ever treat yourself! Don't forget the sooner you begin treatment, the lower likelihood you have of spreading pink eye to loved ones or prolonging your discomfort.

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