What is 'Pink Eye' and how do I treat it?
Pink-Eye: An Introduction
Itchy eyes, watery discharge or pinkness in the eyes? You might just have conjunctivitis or, as it’s colloquially known, ‘pink-eye’. But, don’t fret. It’s a very common infection and easily treated. It is especially important to keep an eye on infections like this during the current COVID-19 pandemic; according to the World Health Organisation, conjunctivitis may be a possible symptom of the Coronavirus. Read on to find out more about this common infection - and how to avoid catching it in the first place.
What Is Pink-Eye or Conjunctivitis?
Commonly known as ‘pink-eye’ because of the characteristic colour that appears in the eye, conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the thin, clear covering of the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids (conjunctiva).
Pink-Eye and Coronavirus
Over the last year, a great deal of research has been done into the causes, symptoms and nature of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), however, information from the World Health Organisation tells us that conjunctivitis can be a sign that someone has coronavirus. It’s a common misconception that the virus is airborne - but the truth isn’t far off. The virus is spread when particles from an infected person enter your system through your nose or mouth or, in this case, eyes. Similarly, you could become infected by touching something that has the virus on its surface and then touching your eyes. In 2020, the American Academy of Ophthalmology reported on a study from China that showed almost one third of Coronavirus patients who were hospitalised presented problems with their eyes like conjunctivitis. So, as you’ve been informed time and time again, it is incredibly important to try and reduce touching your face and eyes - even if you’ve washed your hands first.
What’s the Difference Between Bacterial Conjunctivitis, Allergic Conjunctivitis and Viral Pink Eye?
Before we look at the differences, let’s look at the similarities. All three generally develop when you have a cold (virus) or a sore throat (virus or bacteria). All three are highly contagious. Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria that spreads to your eyes from your respiratory system or your skin. You can also catch it if you rub your eyes when your hands aren’t clean, use makeup (mascara) that has been contaminated or share makeup or other things that your eyes (like a towel) with someone who has conjunctivitis. Conversely, viral pink-eye is caused by viruses like the herpes virus. You can catch it when someone who is infected sneezes or coughs near you and the droplets come into contact with your eyes. Allergic conjunctivitis happens when your eyes come into contact with pollen and become red, itchy, and watery. It is an eye inflammation caused by an allergic reaction and normally a short term condition than the former two.
What Are the Signs of Pink-Eye?
You’ll know you’re developing conjunctivitis if you experience:
- Pink or red color in the whites of the eyes.
- Watering eyes.
- Itchy eyes.
- Burning or irritation in your eyes.
- Crusting of the eyelids or lashes, especially in the morning.
- Discharge from the eye.
Pink-Eye in Kids
Young children are prone to picking up lots of bugs and infections, especially when they start going to preschool/kindergarten and school. Conjunctivitis is especially contagious, so kids are quite vulnerable to catching it.
Conjunctivitis is easy to treat and most cases usually clear up by themselves in 1-2 weeks. You can use antibiotics to help clear up a bacterial infection quicker than waiting for it to heal itself. To help ease discomfort while the infection clears, you can also use lubricating eye drops to prevent your eyes getting too dry, put cold ice packs against your eyes to soothe swelling, and clean the discharge from your eyes with a wet cloth or tissue.
How to Prevent Pink-Eye
Pink eye is an annoying infection, so it’s best to avoid catching it in the first place as well as to help prevent spreading it to others if you’re infected. Make sure you wash your hands properly during the day with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. You should also make extra effort to wash them thoroughly before taking your eyes when using drops or inserting contact lenses. Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, and try not to share towels, bedding, makeup or makeup brushes if you can avoid it. Thoroughly wash bedding and towels after using them and regularly clean and disinfect contact lenses and glasses. And remember, due to pink-eye being highly contagious, it is best to stay home from school or work until the infection is gone to avoid spreading it to others. You’re probably used to that by now, though.
How to Avoid Reinfection
Once pink-eye has cleared up, it’s important to avoid reinfecting yourself. Make sure you throw out any eye makeup or applicators you used when you had conjunctivitis, get rid of disposable contact lenses and solution if you used them during your infection, and thoroughly disinfect hard contact lenses, eyeglasses and your lens cases - all three can harbour bacteria.
You can read more about how to properly clean these items up here.
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