“Pink Eye” has become the well-known term for any condition causing red and irritated eyes. To eye care professionals, this eye problem is known as conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is a broad term for any condition that causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the thin clear layer that covers the white portion of your eye. In conjunctivitis, the small blood vessels in this layer become enlarged due to inflammation, and the eye takes on a classic bloodshot, red appearance.
The Main Culprits
There are three main types of conjunctivitis, each with a different cause. The uncomfortable contagious form that is most commonly thought of as “pink eye” is viral conjunctivitis. It’s caused by a virus, and as such is oftentimes associated with upper respiratory infections or the common cold. Viral conjunctivitis causes severe watering and itching, and is sometimes accompanied by light sensitivity and discharge. It typically resolves on its own within a week or so, but can be highly contagious in the meantime.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is rarer, and is cause by bacterial infections. Like viral conjunctivitis, this form is also contagious, but is not as easily spread. It usually causes thick yellow-ish discharge. Bacterial pink eye can be treated with an antibiotic drop; if left untreated, the condition can cause serious damage to the front surface of the eye.
The least contagious cause of pink eye is allergic conjunctivitis. This causes red eyes that are unbearably itchy and uncomfortable. While it most commonly occurs in pollen-heavy warm season, some people experience the condition year-round. Allergic conjunctivitis and its associated itching can be treated with prescription eye drops.
Diagnosing and Treating Pink Eye
The different causes of conjunctivitis each have specific clinical signs and require unique treatment approaches. For bacterial and allergic conjunctivitis, different prescription drops can be used to treat the symptoms and clear the problem. Viral forms of the condition may not respond to medication, and oftentimes require different methods of managing symptoms until the infection passes.
If think you have pink eye, it is best to let your optometrist at Neal Eye Group diagnose the condition to ensure you are getting proper treatment and care. Our doctors are trained in diagnosing and treating all forms of conjunctivitis, and are here to help.