“Pink eye” (or the medical term, conjunctivitis) is exactly what it sounds like it should be….the eye is pink, or often even red. There are many causes, and some “pink eyes” are infectious and contagious, others are not. A visit to the eye doctor is necessary to determine what type of “pink eye” you have and the best treatment for you. Let’s start with some of the more common causes:
Infections can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or rarely, fungus or parasite. A viral infection will often come before or during a bout with the common cold. Our tears drain into our sinuses, so something as simple as blowing our nose can cause it to spread to the eye, especially if we don’t wash our hands before rubbing our eyes! The same virus that causes cold sores, chicken pox, and shingles can also cause an eye infection. For a mild viral infection, lubricant drops may be enough since, like a cold, this type of infection will go away on its own in about 7-10 days. More severe infections may require eye drops to help the eye look and feel better, or to help clear up the infection and prevent scarring. In some cases, oral medicine can also help get rid of the virus faster.
Bacterial infections usually need to be treated to clear up. Most often, we get these infections from putting a contaminated object, like a contact lens, makeup, or our hand, into our eye. Prescription eye drops used for 1-2 weeks will usually get rid of a bacterial infection. Occasionally, oral antibiotics will also be prescribed.
Fungal infections are very difficult to treat, and cause a lot of damage. Fortunately, this type of infection is rare in humans. They most often occur after the eye is scratched with plant material, like a tree branch, so they occur more often in animals than they do in humans. Contact with contaminated water or other liquid can also cause a severe infection from a parasite, Acanthamoeba. This infection can cause a lot of damage and vision loss and is very hard to treat. Luckily, like fungal infections, this is somewhat rare.
Other non-infective causes of “Pink eye” are inflammation, allergies, and dry eyes. These are usually treated with prescription or over-the-counter eye drops.
Helpful ways to avoid getting “pink eye:”
- Wash your hands often and don’t put your hands on your face or eyes.
- Never share contact lenses, makeup, or towels with friends or family members.
- Throw contact lenses away as directed by your doctor and replace contact lens cases every 3 months. Do not touch top of bottle of solution or eye drops, and replace the cap immediately. Do not rinse contacts with tap water; wash your hands with soap, and dry them thoroughly, before handling contact lenses.