Michelle Calder, O.D., is the owner and lead optometrist at Urban Optiques in Northville, MI. 

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, occurs when the conjunctiva becomes inflamed. The conjunctiva is the thin, clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelids and encases the white part of the eyeball. Symptoms of pink eye include:

    • Redness of the whites of the eye
    • Burning, itching, and/or blurred vision
    • Green or yellow-white discharge that may crust over the eyelashes and lids
    • Increased sensitivity to light
    • Gritty sensation in the eye
    • Swollen eyelids

Types

There are several types of pink eye: bacterial, viral, allergic, and chemical.

    • Bacterial conjunctivitis is an infection that is transferred by physical contact with other people. Poor hygiene can increase your risk of this kind of pink eye.
    • Viral conjunctivitis is contracted through exposure to a virus (usually the common cold virus) that enters the eye through structures in and around the eyes.
    • Allergic conjunctivitis arises frequently among individuals who have seasonal allergies. Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC), a form of allergic conjunctivitis, is triggered by an irritant in the eye. This mainly occurs in people who wear contact lenses that are not cleaned or replaced as directed.  Unlike bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, GPC is not contagious.
    • Chemical conjunctivitis is typically caused by exposure to various chemicals in the air, water, or dirt.

Treatment

Each form of pink eye has its own unique set of treatments. Pink eye caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics in the form of eye drops, ointments, or pills. Treatment may be required for several days to weeks. Unfortunately, there are no available drops or ointments to wipe out viral pink eye. Like the common cold, it just has to run its course, which may take up to two weeks. For allergic and chemical conjunctivitis, you must remove the irritant immediately. Cool compresses and eye drops can relieve discomfort in mild cases. Allergic conjunctivitis can be treated with special eye drops in addition to, or in lieu of, over-the-counter, allergy medications.

Prevention

The best way to avoid pink eye is to practice good hygiene. Avoid touching your face and eyes and wash your hands thoroughly, drying them with a clean towel. Don’t share makeup and be sure to dispose of old cosmetics every three months to prevent bacterial growth that can lead to pink eye. Contacts are a prime breeding ground for eye irritations, like pink eye. Clean, disinfect, store, and dispose of them as directed by your optometrist. Additionally, you should replace your contact-lens case every three months. If you suspect you have conjunctivitis in any of its forms, seek immediate assistance from an optometrist or other eye doctor as conjunctivitis can cause vision-threating complications.

The content of this article is for general informational awareness purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult your eyecare doctor or physician for actual advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This article is the work of the attributed author and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of VSP. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

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Michelle Calder, O.D., is the owner and lead optometrist at Urban Optiques in Northville, MI.