More Than Meets the Eye: Pink Eye

When you think of the color pink, your first thought probably isn’t pink eye. We wouldn’t expect it to be, but it is the most common eye infection, and we treat a lot of cases of it each year. Pink eye is actually known in the medical community as “conjunctivitis,” and it’s most prominent during the winter months. One scientific study found that around 6 million people in the United States have pink eye each year. Now that we have you thinking about pink eye, you’re probably remembering the discomfort you experienced the last time you had it. You also may have been prescribed an antibiotic to treat your infection. However, what’s shocking is that nearly 60% of pink eye cases are treated incorrectly. There is a lot more to this common infection than what meets the eye, hence the title, so we’re going to dive into the basics of conjunctivitis in this edition of our blog.

ABCs of Pink Eye

To begin, let’s talk about the basics of conjunctivitis and how it earned the nickname “pink eye.” Your eyelid is lined by a transparent membrane called the conjunctiva. This membrane also covers the white part of your eye. When the conjunctiva becomes inflamed or infected, the result is pink eye. The pinkish color is a result of the small blood vessels in the conjunctiva becoming inflamed. This inflammation makes them easier to see and the whites of your eyes take on a pink or reddish tone. 

Conjunctivitis can be broken down into three types: bacterial, viral, and allergic. Bacterial and viral are both very contagious and are common in children since they are in close proximity to one another at daycare and school. Allergic conjunctivitis, on the other hand, can not be spread from person to person. To better explain the differences between these three types, we’ve created a table that shows the causes, key symptoms, and treatment options.

Let’s Talk Treatment Options

The way pink eye is treated depends on the type. As you can see in the table above, of the three types, only bacterial can be treated with antibiotics. If someone with viral or allergic conjunctivitis uses antibiotics, it could worsen his or her symptoms. Determining the type of pink eye you have can be tricky. Our doctors can determine the type of conjunctivitis you or your child has to ensure it is treated correctly. Although bacterial pink eye is the only one that can be treated using antibiotics, home remedies like placing a warm, damp washcloth on your eye several times a day and taking over-the-counter pain killers can help anyone with pink eye. Make sure you do not touch your non-infected eye, however, because you can easily spread viral or bacterial pink eye from eye to eye. Also, avoid using any kind of redness-reducing eye drops like Visine to treat pink eye. These drops can cause you a great amount of discomfort.

Stop the Spread

Since viral and bacterial pink eye are both incredibly contagious and can be spread from one eye to the other, here are some tips to help stop the spread: 

  1. Whether you have pink eye or not, you should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water multiple times throughout the day. If you do have pink eye, it’s crucial that you always wash your hands after using any eye drops or touching your infected eye to avoid spreading the infection to your healthy eye.
  2. Keep surfaces around your home, office, classroom, etc., clean. (Teachers, make sure to wipe down your classroom surfaces and any toys or shared supplies.)
  3. If you have pink eye, change your pillowcases and sheets daily.
  4. Dirty contacts can lead to bacterial pink eye, so keep them clean and change them out as directed.
  5. For contact users with pink eye, dispose of your current pair. Do not wear contact lenses again until the infection has completely cleared up.
  6. Keep your makeup brushes clean. Dirty brushes are full of bacteria which can cause bacterial pink eye.
  7. Throw out any eye makeup that is contaminated.
  8. Do not share makeup or makeup brushes with others.

The Wrap Up

Our doctors understand that pink eye can be very annoying and uncomfortable. The key is to take measures to protect yourself and your family. If you do develop pink eye, call us immediately if you experience any pain in your eye(s), become sensitive to light, have symptoms that do not clear up or get worse after a week, or you have a weakened immune system due to other medical conditions. Your eye health matters to us, and we are always here for you anytime you need us. Simply give us a call at 423-892-2020, and our team will be happy to help.