More than being the windows to our soul, our eyes serve as our aperture to the world. Critical in our learning process and daily functions, our peepers are unsurprisingly the second most complex organ in our body. The optic nerve, which transmits visual information to our brain, has over 1 million nerve cells, making a fully functional eye transplant impossible.
Our eyes are just as fragile as they are complex. They are prone to infections, the most common of which is conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye”. In the US, up to 6 million cases of conjunctivitis are recorded annually, affecting children and adults alike.
Minor discomfort and pain go with this eye infection, but seeing red is not the solution. With simple home treatments, you can swiftly say “bye, bye” to uncomfortable red eyes.
What is conjunctivitis?
Conjunctivitis occurs when your conjunctiva, or the transparent membrane that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eyeball, becomes inflamed or infected. The pinkish or reddish colour results from your small blood vessels being more visible due to inflammation.
Causes of conjunctivitis
Conjunctivitis may either be acute or chronic, infectious or not, depending on what caused it. Statistics show that up to 80 percent of acute conjunctivitis cases are viral in nature, most commonly of the Adenovirus pathogen. These viruses cause a wide-range of flu-like symptoms, sore throat, pneumonia and diarrhoea, among others.
However, contrary to popular belief, you can’t get pink eyes simply by looking at an infected person. These are the common causes of pink eye:
As the name implies, allergic conjunctivitis is triggered when allergens such as molds, pollen or other substances come in contact with a person allergic to these substances. As the body produces histamines to fight off the allergens, eye inflammation ensues. Unlike the other types, though, this is not contagious.
Symptoms: Allergic pink eye causes itchy, puffy and watery eyes, a burning sensation and a stuffy or runny nose. As with other forms of allergic reactions, one may also suffer from sneezing, a scratchy throat or asthma. Sensitivity to light may be observed in some pink eye sufferers.
The culprits for bacterial conjunctivitis are the same type of bacteria that cause streptococcal throat and staphylococcal infections, found in our skin and respiratory system.
Poor hygiene, hand-to-eye contact with an infected person and contaminated makeup and skin products are factors that contribute to pink eye, so too is wearing improperly cleansed or stored contact lenses.
Bacterial pink eye is highly contagious. Individuals are capable of spreading it while they manifest the symptoms or up to two days after taking their first antibiotic treatment. Conjunctivitis usually accompanies ear infection in children.
Symptoms: Apart from itchy, watery eyes and a burning or gritty sensation, having bacterial conjunctivitis won’t make your eyes look pretty. In some cases, your eye (or both) will have a light to severe pus-like discharge. Don’t be surprised to wake up with crusty eyelids or have both eyes stuck shut in the morning.
Like bacterial conjunctivitis, this type is also highly transmissible, and it iscaused by the same virus that triggers a runny nose and sore throat when you’re down with a common cold.
Much like SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, viral conjunctivitis is transmitted via direct contact. Conjunctivitis develops when the virus manages to reach your mucus membranes, most notably the tear ducts.
If someone who’s infected with conjunctivitis touches their eyes and reaches for the elevator button, the next person who touches the button then rubs their eye will likely get infected.
Most cases of conjunctivitis in adults are caused by viruses. In addition, Chinese researchers found few COVID-19 patients who developed conjunctivitis, but the relationship between the two is not fully established yet.
Symptoms: Expect to experience a mildly painful sensation that feels like you’ve got sand in your eyes. Watery, itchy eyes with light to moderate redness will accompany you for about two weeks.
Once you get the viral pink eye, you’ll be contagious for several days, even before your symptoms manifest.
Irritants such as fumes, liquids, smoke or noxious chemicals and other strong substances, such as chlorine, can cause conjunctivitis. To avoid exacerbating a chemical pink eye, rinse your eyes with water immediately.
Symptoms: If it’s from a toxic substance, you’ll likely have severe pain, blurred vision, extreme swelling and redness. It is best to call your doctor if this happens.
Easing conjunctivitis symptoms at home
Treatment for pink eyes varies, depending on its cause. For instance, bacterial optic drops cannot treat viral or allergic conjunctivitis. Nevertheless, there are simple means to ease discomfort, reduce the impact of infection or inflammation and prevent conjunctivitis from spreading further.
One of the simplest ways to relieve eye discomfort is by using a cold compress.
Medical professionals recommend applying cold compress to relieve discomfort associated with viral, bacterial or allergic conjunctivitis.
This highly recommended and optician-approved eye mask comes with two gel packs that provide continuous relief and comfort. It’s so easy and convenient to use:
- Pop the gel packs in the fridge.
- Remove the gel after two hours.
- Wash your hands.
- Insert the gel into the insulator-lined eye mask and seal the Velcro tape.
- Leave the eye mask on for 10 minutes.
- Relax while the eye mask works its magic on your eyes. Do not leave the mask on for more than 20 minutes to prevent ice burn.
- Remove the eye mask and rest your eyes for a few minutes.
Repeat the application as necessary with the other cold eye gel pack.
If you don’t have gel packs at home, you may use simple household items such as crushed ice, a resealable plastic bag and a clean towel.
- Start by washing your hands.
- Put crushed ice in a resealable bag and wrap it with a clean cloth or towel.
- Place the bag on your eyes for 15 minutes and not longer, or you’ll risk getting an ice burn. Make sure your entire eye area is covered.
- Remove the cold compress and rest your eyes.
- Prepare a clean cloth if you need to re-apply, or clean the towel before reusing.
You can also wet a clean washcloth and place it on your eyes for 10 to 15 minutes while applying gentle pressure.
Warm eye compresses may also be used to soften and remove the discharge buildup on the eyelids or crust that forms on your eyelashes.
Eye drops and medicines
Allergic conjunctivitis patients can benefit from antihistamines in either optic drop or oral forms. If you are suffering from itching and burning sensations caused by allergic or chemical conjunctivitis, over-the-counter eye drops or “artificial tears” are handy treatments.
For bacterial pink eyes, it’s a no-brainer to use antibiotic eye drops or ointments.
Be cautious in using eye drops that promise to take red eyes out. More often than not, they contain chemicals that can further irritate your eyes. If only one eye is infected, make sure you don’t use the same bottle for the uninfected eye, as it could spread the virus or bacteria.
For more serious cases, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be taken to further reduce the severity of general conjunctivitis symptoms.
Severe cases of viral and chemical conjunctivitis are prescribed with topical steroid drops. Conjunctivitis triggered by potentially toxic chemicals need prompt medical attention.
Preventing the spread and recurrence of conjunctivitis
Apart from your eyes, your hands are also key to preventing the spread and recurrence of conjunctivitis.
Frequent hand washing and proper hygiene
Hand hygiene is proven to prevent the spread of various communicable diseases, not only conjunctivitis. Washing your hands properly helps prevent the spread of infection. Refraining from touching your eye, nose and mouth can also help.
As with those suffering from heavy eye discharge, crusty eyes should be cleaned regularly with cotton or a cloth. Don’t forget to dispose of them properly to avoid infecting others.
Caring by not sharing
Don’t share your personal items such as towels, pillows and personal eye-care products. As much as possible, wash and change linens daily.
Avoid wearing contact lenses
Contact lenses can be breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria that cause the pink eye. So don’t be surprised if your doctor advises you to avoid them for a week or so, until your recovery. If you’re blind as a bat without optic help, use eyeglasses in the meantime. Keep your eyeglasses clean, too.
Eye makeups could, unknowingly, be a culprit for spreading pink eye. Women should discard the makeup products such as mascara and eyeliner used before their conjunctivitis diagnosis.
Rinsing your eyes
Chemical conjunctivitis usually gets better after rinsing your eye with a stream of cold or lukewarm water for five minutes. But if it’s hazardous chemicals we’re talking about, call your doctor immediately. You might need emergency intervention depending on the type of chemical that came in contact with your eyes.
Saying no to allergens
Allergic conjunctivitis patients know better than spending too much time outdoors, especially at a time when pollen abounds. Always keep your doors and windows closed to prevent pollen from entering your home. It also helps to keep your house free from dust and molds.
Most cases of conjunctivitis heal on their own without medical intervention. The discomfort that usually goes with this common eye infection can be treated at home doing simple tasks and, more importantly, by using this all-around eye-relieving mask.
How about you? What are the best home treatments for conjunctivitis discomfort? Share your comments below or keep in touch with us.