Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a condition caused by inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the clear membrane that covers the white part of your eyeball. It also lines the inside of your eyelid. If the small blood vessels in your conjunctiva get inflamed, they become visible and appear to be a light red or pinkish in color. That’s what gives the condition its name.
Pink eye is most often caused by a viral or bacterial infection, but it can be an allergic reaction. It can affect one eye or both. It’s a condition that rarely affects your vision. Pink eye is highly contagious, however, so if you suspect you have conjunctivitis, you should seek treatment quickly to help keep it from spreading.
Symptoms to Watch for
If you think that you may have pink eye, see your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent other people from getting it too. Symptoms that could indicate you have pink eye can include:
- Gritty feeling in the eyes
- Discharge that forms a crust during the night, preventing your eyes from opening in the morning
If you wear contact lenses, stop wearing them immediately if you have symptoms of pink eye. See a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve within 24 hours. Your eye doctor can determine if you have conjunctivitis or a more serious condition caused by contact lens use.
There are other conditions that can cause symptoms similar to pink eye. These conditions may be more serious than pink eye, too, even if you’re not a contact lens wearer. They include:
- A foreign object in your eye
- A chemical splash in your eye
Both bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are very contagious. One or both of your eyes can be affected. The infection can be spread through direct or indirect contact with the discharge from the eyes of an infected person. The bacterial strain of pink eye has a watery discharge, and the viral type has a more yellow-green cloudy discharge. Both types can occur in association with upper respiratory symptoms such as a cold or a sore throat. Adults and children can both develop pink eye, but the bacterial strain is more common in children.
If you’re suffering from allergic conjunctivitis, you probably have other allergy symptoms as well. Sneezing, an itchy nose and watery discharge likely are present. Pink eye due to allergies affects both eyes and is a reaction to exposure to allergens, usually dust or pollen.
The way your body reacts to allergens is to produce an antibody called immunoglobulin E. When this substance is produced, special cells known as mast cells are triggered to release histamines and other inflammatory substances. When your body produces histamines, a number of responses can occur in your body, including pink eyes.
Conjunctivitis from Irritation
Splashing your eyes with chemicals or having something in your eye can also result in conjunctivitis. Sometimes, washing your eyes to remove the irritant can itself cause pink eye, as the blood vessels in the conjunctiva are inflamed by the action of the water on the eye.
If your eyes have been irritated in this way and thoroughly flushed with water, the redness and discharge should disappear on their own within a few days.
Risks of Developing Pink Eye
There are some conditions that increase your risk for getting or developing pink eye. Additionally, pink eye can lead to an irritation or inflammation of the cornea. Corneal inflammation then can lead to serious conditions that can affect your sight, if left untreated.
Conditions that put you at a higher risk include:
- Contact lens use
- Exposure to someone infected with viral or bacterial pink eye
- Exposure to allergens
Your Doctor Knows
When you visit your doctor to have him check your symptoms, there are some things you can do to help with the diagnosis. You need to be able to answer several questions. The information your doctor needs may include:
- How long you’ve had symptoms
- Whether your symptoms have been continuous or intermittent
- What makes your symptoms worse
- What makes them better
- How severe your symptoms have been
- Whether you wear contact lenses
- How you clean your lenses
- Whether you clean the storage case too
- If both eyes affected
- Whether you’ve been near someone with a cold or pink eye symptoms
- If there any changes to your vision
Your eye doctor needs to ask about your health history before examining your eyes. He may also take a sample from your eye for lab analysis. There are three reasons why this could happen:
- Your conjunctivitis is severe.
- You’ve had repeated infections that aren’t getting better.
- Your corneas are affected.
Take Special Precautions
Until you see your doctor, take precautions to avoid spreading the virus to others. Wash your hands frequently and avoid sharing towels with others. Wash your hands after touching your face. Do not wear contact lenses again unless given the all clear by your doctor.
You may continue to be contagious after your symptoms have resolved, so a good rule to follow is to take precautions for a full two weeks after you’re feeling better. For temporary relief for the discomfort of pink eye, apply a warm or cold compress for a few minutes several times a day. Another option is to try artificial tears, which provide some cooling moisture for your eyes. Other precautions you can take to avoid spreading pink eye to your family or co- workers include:
- Use only clean towels or washcloths
- Change your pillowcase often
- Don’t share personal hygiene or eye cosmetic items
- Avoid swimming pools
- Throw away any eye cosmetics you have been using
- Always use any prescribed antibiotics for the complete time prescribed
If you’re diagnosed with allergic conjunctivitis, it’s not a contagious condition, but there are some things you can do to alleviate your symptoms. You may want to have allergy tests to determine what’s causing your allergic reaction. You can bathe or shower before bed, wash your clothes frequently and avoid contact with as many allergens as possible.
Most of the time, symptoms go away on their own in three to seven days. Viral infections have no treatment, unless caused by the herpes simplex virus. In that case, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication.
After the infection runs its course, you should have no further problems. If you have allergic conjunctivitis, a combination of drugs such as antihistamines, decongestants, steroids and anti-inflammatories may be used.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult eye doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified eye doctor can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
Do you have any questions about Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) treatment in NYC? Would like to schedule an appointment with Ophthalmology specialist in Midtown NYC, Optometrist Dr. Saba Khodadadian of Manhattan Eye Specialists, please contact our office for consultation with eye doctor.
Dr. Saba Khodadadian, Optometrist (NYC Eye Doctor)
New York, NY 10010
(Between Madison Ave & Park Ave)
☎ (212) 533-4821