January 6, 2014
Red and itchy eyes – we’ve all experienced them or have cared for a loved one with these symptoms. But how do you know if it’s simply an irritation or something more serious, such as pink eye?
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is one of the most common and treatable eye conditions seen in children and adults. It can be caused by bacteria and viruses responsible for colds and other infections. Allergies or other irritants, such as chlorine or smoke, may also cause pink eye.
So how do you know if you have it? The most common pink eye symptoms include:
- Redness and/or swelling of the white of the eye or inside the eyelids
- Discomfort/gritty feeling in the eye – may feel like sand in the eye
- Discharge – usually white or yellow for viral infections or yellow and green for bacterial infections
- Itching and/or burning of the eye
- Increased sensitivity to light
Most cases of pink eye are mild and get better even without treatment. However, even mild cases of pink eye can be uncomfortable, especially the first few days. Below are a few tips to help you manage:
- Keep the area clean – Clean the edges of the infected eye carefully with warm water and cotton balls. You can also apply a wet compress to the closed eyelid of the infected eye.
- Seek short-term relief – Over-the-counter lubricating eye drops may provide some relief from symptoms. Avoid touching the tip of the container to the eye, and do not share the eye drops with others.
- Seek medical attention – If the pink eye does not improve after two days of treatment (or after a week left untreated), call your doctor. Other eye conditions can sometimes mimic pink eye.
Pink eye is very contagious, and symptoms usually last one to two weeks. Until pink eye symptoms have subsided, it is best for those infected not to return to work, school or daycare.
While none of us likes to get sick, there are steps you can take to prevent or control the spread of pink eye.
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid touching your eyes
- Do not reuse tissues, face cloths or towels
To learn more about pink eye, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.