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What is Pink Eye?

International Global Health

What is Pink Eye?


Pink-eye, also called Conjunctivitis, is inflammation of the thin, clear covering of the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids (conjunctiva)

`Pink eye`is a term that may sound scary, but this common eye problem typically is easily treated and, with a few simple precautions, can often be avoided.

Anyone can get pink eye, it can also have several causes, but many eye doctors use the term `pink eye` to refer only to viral conjunctivitis, a highly contagious infection caused by a variety of viruses.


What causes Pink-eye?

The primary types of conjunctivitis are:

  • Viral conjunctivitis. Caused by a virus, like the common cold. This type of pink eye is very contagious, but usually will clear up on its own within several days without medical treatment.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis. Caused by bacteria, this type of conjunctivitis can cause serious damage to the eye if left untreated.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis. Caused by eye irritants such as pollen, dust and animal dander among susceptible individuals. Allergic conjunctivitis may be seasonal (pollen) or flare up year-round (dust; pet dander).



Besides your eye having a pink appearance, you can also have:

1. Viral conjunctivitis

Watery, itchy eyes; sensitivity to light. One or both eyes can be affected. Highly contagious; can be spread by coughing and sneezing.


2. Bacterial conjunctivitis

A sticky, yellow or greenish-yellow eye discharge in the corner of the eye. In some cases, this discharge can be severe enough to cause the eyelids to be stuck together when you wake up. One or both eyes can be affected. Contagious (usually by direct contact with infected hands or items that have touched the eye).


3. Allergic conjunctivitis

Watery, burning, itchy eyes; often accompanied by stuffiness and a runny nose, and light sensitivity. Both eyes are affected. Not contagious.




Conjunctivitis can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. Testing, with special emphasis on the conjunctiva and surrounding tissues, may include:


  • Patient history to determine the symptoms, when the symptoms began, and whether any general health or environmental conditions are contributing to the problem.
  • Visual acuity measurements to determine whether vision has been affected.
  • Evaluation of the conjunctiva and external eye tissue using bright light and magnification.
  • Evaluation of the inner structures of the eye to ensure that no other tissues are affected by the condition.
  • Supplemental testing, which may include taking cultures or smears of conjunctiva tissue. This is particularly important in cases of chronic conjunctivitis or when the condition is not responding to treatment.


After the examinations, your optometrist can determine if you have conjunctivitis and advise you on treatment options.



To help relieve some of the inflammation and dryness caused by conjunctivitis, you can use cold compresses and artificial tears, which you can purchase over the counter without a prescription.

  • Viral Conjunctivitis: Most cases of viral conjunctivitis are mild. The infection will usually clear up in 7 to 14 days without treatment and without any long-term consequences. But in some cases, viral conjunctivitis can take 2 to 3 weeks or more to clear up. Your doctor can prescribe antiviral medication to treat more serious forms of conjunctivitis for which there is a specific treatment, such as those caused by herpes simplex virus or varicella-zoster virus.
  • Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic, usually given topically as eye drops or ointment, for bacterial conjunctivitis. Antibiotics may help shorten the length of infection, reduce complications, and reduce the spread to others.
  • Allergic Conjunctivitis: Conjunctivitis caused by an allergen (such as pollen or animal dander) usually improves by removing the allergen from the person`s environment. Allergy medications and certain eye drops (topical antihistamine and vasoconstrictors), including some prescription eye drops, can also provide relief from allergic conjunctivitis



Here are the simple precautions you can take to significantly reduce your risk of getting pink eye:

  • Never share personal items such as washcloths, hand towels or tissues.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and avoid rubbing or touching your eyes.
  • Never (EVER) share your color contact lenses or special effect contacts with friends.
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially when spending time at school or in other public places.
  • Keep a hand disinfectant (e.g., Purell) handy and use it frequently.

Practicing good hygiene also is the best way to control the spread of conjunctivitis. Once an infection has been diagnosed, you can follow below tips:

  • Do not touch your eyes with your hands.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
  • Change your towel and washcloth daily, and do not share them with others.
  • Discard eye cosmetics, particularly mascara.
  • Do not use anyone else`s eye cosmetics or personal eye-care items.
  • Follow your eye doctor`s instructions on proper contact lens care.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

American Optometric Association

All About Vision

Web MD

Medicine Net

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