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Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye or Red Eye)

Conjunctivitis, commonly called pink eye or red eye, can be caused by many things.  The conjunctiva is a clear coating over the white part of the eye.  When this becomes infected by bacteria or a virus, it may easily spread.  Other forms of conjunctivitis or pink eye that are not contagious (spread from one person to others) are allergic conjunctivitis, fungal, Herpes, foreign body irritation, etc.

The clear coating becomes very red.  At times, there is a greenish yellow discharge or a clear watery discharge.  When you come to the office, we can usually determine what king of conjunctivitis it is and whether it is contagious or not.  The eyes may be itchy or sensitive to light.  It may feel like there is something in the eye.

  • Viral conjunctivitis usually causes excessive eye watering and a light discharge.
  • Bacterial conjunctivitis often causes a thick, sticky discharge, sometimes greenish.
  • Allergic conjunctivitis affects both eyes and causes itching and redness in the eyes and sometimes the nose, as well as excessive tearing.
  • Giant papillary conjunctivitis (GPC) is usually caused by contact lenses not being cleaned properly.  It usually affects both eyes and can make it uncomfortable to wear contact lenses.  There may be itching, discharge, tearing and red bumps on the underside of the eyelids.

The type of pink eye that occurs in preschoolers and school children is most often caused by bacteria being “shared” between children.  Bacterial conjunctivitis responds to eye antibiotics.  These may be in the form of eye drops or eye ointment.  At the time of your visit, we will determine which will be best in your particular case and with your specific type of conjunctivitis.

Conjunctivitis may also be triggered by a virus, an allergic reaction (to dust, pollen, smoke, fumes or chemicals) or, in the case of giant papillary conjunctivitis, a foreign body on the eye, typically a contact lens. Bacterial and viral infections elsewhere in the body, for example, having a cold or upper respiratory problem, may be the cause for conjunctivitis.

Besides medication, when indicated, we treat pink eye by making sure that we wash our hands and use hand towels to avoid spreading it.

If someone is highly allergic to pollen, then staying indoors and using an air filter reduces the reaction to the allergens.  Allergic conjunctivitis can also be caused by smoke, chemicals or fumes. Cold compresses over your closed eyes can be very soothing.

If you've developed giant papillary conjunctivitis, odds are that you're a contact lens wearer. You may need to stop wearing your contact lenses or using a different type of lens; either a daily disposable or a gas permeable lens. Certain medications may be necessary to reduce inflammation and itching.

At times, tear supplements are needed if the cause of the conjunctivitis is a dry eye.  Antihistamine allergy pills or eyedrops will help control allergic conjunctivitis symptoms.

It is not a good idea to keep your eye drop medication in your medicine cabinet from previous infections or eye problems.  They usually have only a limited shelf life.

It may be difficult to avoid the spread of bacteria causing pink eye in young children who are in day care centers and school rooms.  It is a good idea for caregivers to wash their hands frequently and encourage children to do the same. Soap should always be available for hand washing. Keep your own towels and pillowcases and don’t share them with family members.  Try to have the child cover their nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing.  Try not to rub the eyes as that can spread the infection, especially if the infection is in only one eye.