What is conjunctivitis (pink eye)?
If you’re reading this article through irritated, blurry pink eyes…eye, caramba! We feel you. Conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye, is a bacterial infection of the eye’s conjunctiva, the connective tissue that covers the surface of the eyeball. Its purpose is to protect and lubricate the eye by producing mucus and tears. It acts as a barrier to prevent microbial entrances into the eye. When this is infected, small blood vessels in the conjunctiva become inflamed, giving the eye a pink hue, hence the name by which it’s known.
Symptoms of conjunctivitis
Could you have pink eye? Pink eye is quite a common condition that affects children and adults.
Here are the common symptoms of pink eye sufferers:
- Sensation of itching, irritation or burning in the eyes.
- Eyes producing discharge (pus or mucus).
- Crusting of eyelids or lashes, which is more heavily pronounced after waking in the morning.
- A sensation that a foreign body has gotten inside the eyes.
- Feeling the urge to rub the eyes.
- Pink or reddish colour in the eyes.
- Increased tear production.
- Contact lenses feel uncomfortable and it’s hard for them to stay in place.
Other types of conjunctivitis
Bear in mind that this article pertains to the basic form of conjunctivitis. There are other types of conjunctivitis. If you feel you are suffering from any of the following, it’s best to do separate research regarding treatment for these kinds of conjunctivitis:
This type of conjunctivitis is commonly associated with pus discharge. This often occurs alongside an ear infection.
This type usually occurs in both eyes. The itching, tearing and swelling in the eyes can feel more intense and this typically occurs alongside symptoms of allergies such as an itchy nose, constant sneezing, asthma or an itchy, scratchy throat.
How do you get conjunctivitis?
Pink eye is viral and is highly contagious. Most cases of pink eyes are spread through hand-to-eye contact with hands and objects contaminated with the conjunctivitis virus. Hands can get contaminated via tears, discharge, respiratory discharges and even faecal matter.
This is why pink eye is quite prevalent among children. Usually, in preschool or primary school, when one child in the class has conjunctivitis, it’s pretty common to find many other children in the same class will have conjunctivitis.
Viral conjunctivitis normally occurs in one eye, and it infects the other within a couple of days.
The best way to prevent conjunctivitis is to wash one’s hands frequently and thoroughly.
How do I treat conjunctivitis?
The good news is that, most of the time, pink eye is not a life-threatening or serious condition, and it will improve on its own, with or without treatment. The bad news is conjunctivitis is hardly bearable and feels extremely uncomfortable, so most pink eye sufferers resort to a remedy rather than sit it out.
Here are ways to relieve your pink eye symptoms:
Do not put anything foreign in the eye or eye area
If you normally wear contact lenses, immediately stop this and wear your prescription glasses for now. Do not wear eye makeup at all during this time, and skip on the eye creams and moisturisers for now.
There are a number of over-the-counter eye drops available to relieve itching and redness. Chloramphenicol is an antibiotic form of eye drop that is a popular choice for relieving pink eye. There are also eye drops called “artificial tears” that may relieve symptoms.
Cold therapy will relieve some of the swelling, redness and itching. If you are making a homemade or DIY cold compress, make sure that you wrap a cloth or towel around the ice pack. Do not expose your eyelids directly to ice or the wet surface of the ice bag.
Many gel eye masks, like this one by Magic Gel, is composed of flexible gel material which contours perfectly and safely around the eye area.
Whether you are using a DIY cold compress or a gel eye mask, it’s important to wash them thoroughly each time after use.
Clean your eyes
This sounds almost too simple, but if you’re suffering from pink eye, chances are there will be crust formation around the eyelids. This makes it hard to open your eyes, especially when waking after sleeping. By using a clean, warm and damp cloth, you can gently remove the crust and pus around your eye and eyelashes.
This will relieve much of the discomfort around your eye and will help you see clearer.
In some cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can help relieve one from the pain and inflammation caused by conjunctivitis. If your pink eye is caused by an allergy, allergy medication, such as antihistamine tablets or topical eye drops containing antihistamines, can relieve you of pink eye discomfort.
Change towels and pillowcases daily
Even if you’re the only person using these, you need to change your towels and pillowcases daily. You still risk re-infecting yourself if you keep reusing personal items that you used during the infection period.
Avoid touching your eyes
This sounds like common sense, but as we’ve often heard, common sense isn’t too common sometimes. As much as it’s tempting to constantly rub your eyes, touching or rubbing them will make your pink eye symptoms worse. If you really must touch your face or eyes (for reasons other than rubbing the eyes), wash your hands thoroughly.
When should you see a doctor for your conjunctivitis?
Although most pink eye cases are not serious and go away on their own even without treatment, there are times when medical attention may be required.
If you experience the following symptoms, we urge you to contact your local physician:
- Your symptoms last more than a week.
- There is green or yellow discharge from the eye.
- You have developed sensitivity to light.
- You have fever.
- You have impaired vision.
- You experience chills and body aches.
Even after you’ve been successful in getting rid of your pink eye, the best way to prevent this in the future is to be vigilant about cleanliness and hygiene. Remember, it’s the future that you want rosy and pink, not your eyes!