Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye). This term describes a group of diseases that cause swelling, itching, burning, and redness of the conjunctiva, the protective membrane that lines the eyelids and covers exposed areas of the sclera, or white of the eye. Conjunctivitis can spread from one person to another and affects millions of Americans at any given time. Conjunctivitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, allergy, environmental irritants, a contact lens product, eyedrops, or eye ointments.
At its onset, conjunctivitis is usually painless and does not adversely affect vision. The infection will clear in most cases without requiring medical care. But for some forms of conjunctivitis, treatment will be needed. If treatment is delayed, the infection may worsen and cause corneal inflammation and a loss of vision.
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the thin, clear outer layer that covers the white part of the eyeball and the inner surface of the eyelids. The eyes are red, irritated, itchy and there may be a stickiness of the eyelids. Bacteria and viruses are common causes and both are quite contagious. Allergies and chemical irritations may cause conjuctivitis, too.
Bacterial infections may be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment. If the cause is a viral infection, antibiotic eye medications will not help. In these cases, no medical treatment is needed and the condition will go away in a few days. Allergic conjunctivitis is usually associated with a nasal allergy and rarely causes any pus in the inner corner of the eye. Non-antibiotic eye drops may relieve some of the symptoms.
It is important that parents contact their child's health provider before using any eye drops. Keep the infection from spreading by using good hygiene practices, such as:
- Avoid touching or rubbing the infected eye(s).
- Wash hands often with soap and warm water.
- Wipe any discharge from the eyes at least twice daily with a cotton swab/ball or warm, wet washcloth.
- Do not share any washcloth that has been used on the infected eye. Wash these linens in a hot water laundry.
- Keep children home from school as directed by your doctor.