What is Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)? How Do You Get Pink Eye ?
Conjunctivitis, which is also commonly referred as ‘pink eye’, is a viral or bacterial infection of the eye which makes the eye go extremely red and stays like that for several days. It is also quite painful and the eyes tend to water a lot during conjunctivitis. The inside of the eyelids are covered by a thin transparent layer called conjunctiva. The conjunctiva also contains blood vessels which become inflamed due to the reaction of a virus or even because of an allergic reaction. This inflammation of blood vessels makes the eye turn red and sore and causes the disease called conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is highly contagious and causes difficulty in vision. However it is also quite a common disease and gets healed easily and quickly.
Conjunctivitis is generally caused by a virus which is highly contagious and can spread easily from person to person. Sometimes, bacteria like gonorrhoea or chlamydia can also be the cause of conjunctivitis. People who are allergic to dust or pollen are at a especially high risk of contracting conjunctivitis since even slightest particle of dust entering the eye can cause an abnormal reaction with the conjunctiva. Other irritants like shampoo, smoke, cosmetics etc. which generally cause a burning sensation in the eye can also cause conjunctivitis in people who are more susceptible to eye related problems.
- Burning sensation in the eyes.
- The white region of the eye turns pink or even red in some people.
- Eyes water a lot.
- Eyes become more sensitive to light.
- Usually begins in one eye and spreads to the other.
- A sore throat as well as runny nose and sneezing often accompanies conjunctivitis.
- If it is a bacterial infection, a sticky greenish-yellow fluid will also be periodically discharged from the corner of the eye.
Conjunctivitis usually starts with a burning and itching sensation in the eyes. The eyes may get bloodshot or red due to other factors too like lack of sleep and stress but the pink eye caused by conjunctivitis remains reddish pink for days on end. Constant watering of the eye is another sure-shot sign of conjunctivitis. Some people also experience blurred vision and increased sensitivity to bright light such as sunlight or difficulty in working on the computer or watching TV.
Generally, a test is not needed for conjunctivitis since it can easily be recognized and diagnosed through its symptoms. If however, the conjunctivitis has started to affect the cornea of if it does not respond to treatment, then the doctor may order a laboratory test of the secretions of the eye. If it is a bacterial infection, chances are that the yellowish secretion which the eye produces will be sent for laboratory test.
A GP is usually able to identify conjunctivitis by its unique symptoms on visual examination of the eye. However, to determine whether it is a viral, bacterial or allergic infection, some tests may have to be done. If the eye is secreting a yellow-green fluid, it indicates that it might be a bacterial infection and a culture test of that secretion will have to be done to identify the bacteria. If the conjunctivitis is caused due to an allergy, a patch test will be done to determine the allergen which caused the conjunctivitis. If it is an allergic reaction, you will probably have a past history of the allergy reactions which will have to be told to the doctor.
Prognosis for conjunctivitis is generally good as usually it is a mild infection which can be completely healed with the help of most basic medication. It may take up to 7-10 days during which the eye can be very painful and itchy but it is not recurring in nature. For people whose cornea gets infected, and if it is not treated on time, it can lead to some loss of vision or scarring.
Since the conjunctivitis virus is contagious and is spread mostly through sneezing and coughing, you should ensure strict personal hygiene to minimize the chances of being affected with this virus. Also, to prevent others from being infected from your virus, make sure you wash your hands as often as possible and avoid rubbing your eyes with your fingers. Do not share your towels, make-up or clothes with anybody. Also make sure that if you are using an eye-drop or ointment for the infected eye, the same bottle or tube is not used for any uninfected eye, either your own or of others.
Conjunctivitis can be of three types depending on what causes it:
- Viral – This is the most common type of conjunctivitis. The eye is itchy and watery but vision is usually not affected. It is the quickest to heal too.
- Bacterial – The characteristics of a bacterial conjunctivitis is that there is a discharge of yellow or greenish-yellow fluid from the eye which can cause eyelashes to stick together. The eye also gets swollen in this type of infection.
- Allergic – Some people may get a pink eye due to allergy from dust, pollen, certain kinds of shampoos, perfumes etc. Such people usually have a medical history of allergies but this type of conjunctivitis is not contagious.
Usually, a mild to medium case of infection does not involve much complication as with the proper treatment, it can get easily healed within a week or so. However, bacterial infection is usually more intense and things can get messy if it spreads to the cornea of the eye. It can affect vision permanently and irreversibly and also leave behind scars inside the cornea.
Home Remedies :
The following home remedies can be tried for pink eye:
- Apply honey directly to the eyes to soothe the itchiness and kill the bacteria or virus.
- Prepare eyewash by mixing boric acid and water which will work great as an antiseptic.
- Soak a couple of black or green tea bags in warm water and then press them on the eye to reduce inflammation.
- Make an eye-drop solution with goldenseal, chamomile and boiled water which has both antimicrobial and astringent properties.
Generally conjunctivitis does not require any special treatment as it can heal on its own. The above stated home remedies are enough to take care of the pink eye even without visiting the doctor. For severe cases some topical antibiotics may be prescribed if it is a bacterial infection. For viral and allergic reactions, antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications may be given as the doctor sees fit to speed up the healing process. Some cooling eye-drops or cold wet compresses to the eye are generally recommended to relieve the burning sensation.
Conjunctivitis in Newborns :
Conjunctivitis may not be a very serious disease for adults, but if a newborn baby gets infected by it, it may do lasting damage. To prevent it, a few drops of erythromycin are immediately put in the baby’s eyes so that he or she does not contract the conjunctivitis virus immediately after birth. If infection does occur, it should be treated immediately through oral as well as intravenous antibiotics as if it spreads to the cornea of the baby’s eye, it may even cause blindness.