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Pink Eye: Don’t Let it Go Untreated

Pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, is a frequently encountered eye infection, particularly when it comes to children. Pink eye can be caused by a virus, bacteria or even hypersensitivity to ingredients in cosmetics, pollen, and chlorine in pools, or other products that come in contact with the eyes. Certain types of conjunctivitis can be fairly transmittable and easily spread in school and in the office or home.

Pink eye is seen when the thin clear layer of tissue over the white part of the eye, or conjunctiva, gets inflamed. It's easy to recognize conjunctivitis if you notice eye itching, discharge, redness or inflamed eyelids and a crusty discharge surrounding the eyes in the morning. Pink eye infections can be divided into three basic types: bacterial, viral and allergic conjunctivitis.

Viral conjunctivitis is often a result of the same type of virus that produces the familiar red, watery eyes, runny nose and sore throat of the common cold. The red, itchy, watery eyes caused by viral conjunctivitis will usually stick around for seven to fourteen days and like other viruses cannot be treated with medication. You may however, be able to alleviate some of the discomfort by applying soothing drops or compresses. Viral conjunctivitis is transmittable until it's gone, so in the meanwhile maintain excellent hygiene, remove eye discharge and try to avoid using communal towels or pillowcases. Children who have viral pink eye should be kept home for three days to a week until symptoms disappear.

Bacterial pink eye is caused by a common bacterial infection that gets into the eye often from something outside touching the eye that carries the bacteria, such as a dirty finger. This type of conjunctivitis is most often treated with antibiotic eye drops or cream. Usually one should notice the symptoms disappearing within just a few days of antibiotic drops, but make sure to adhere to the full antibiotic prescription to stop pink eye from recurring.

Allergic conjunctivitis is not infectious or contagious. It is usually a result of a known allergy such as pollen, pet dander or smoke that sets off an allergic response in their eyes. The first step in alleviating allergic conjunctivitis is to eliminate or avoid the irritant, when possible. To ease discomfort, try artificial tears or compresses. In more severe cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines might be prescribed. When the infection remains for a long time, steroid eye drops might be used.

With any form conjunctivitis, implementing good hygiene is the first rule of thumb. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently and don't touch your eyes with your hands.

Although conjunctivitis is typically a highly treatable condition, it can sometimes deteriorate into a more severe problem. Any time you think you have conjunctivitis, be certain to have your eye doctor take a look so he or she can decide how to best to treat it.