Symptoms, causes, and management of pink eye Health

Symptoms, causes, and management of pink eye

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection or an allergy. This condition causes inflammation of the eyelid and eyeball’s clear membrane lining, resulting in red or pink eyes. While conjunctivitis’s bacterial and viral forms can be contagious, it is usually not serious. Children are more likely to get pink eye due to their close contact with others at school or daycare. Here’s more about its symptoms, causes, and management.

What are the signs and symptoms of pink eye?
A pink eye infection could have signs and symptoms such as:

  • Redness in one or both eyes
  • Itchiness in one or both eyes
  • Thick yellow discharge from one or both eyes that may form a crust and make it difficult to open the eyes
  • More tears than usual
  • Green or white discharge from the eyes
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)

In most cases, conjunctivitis or pink eye goes away by itself. However, when chronic cases of conjunctivitis are left untreated, they may cause permanent damage to the eyes.

What causes pink eyes?
Several factors, such as viruses, bacteria, allergies, chemical splash in the eye, foreign objects in the eyes, or a broken tear duct in newborns, could cause pink eyes.

Viruses are the leading cause of pink eyes. Conjunctivitis is most commonly caused by adenovirus but could also result from other viruses such as herpes simplex virus or varicella-zoster virus. Bacterial conjunctivitis infections could result from an improperly cleaned lens or lens case. A cold or sore throat may accompany viral and bacterial pink eye infections.

Newborns may suffer from a severe form of this condition known as ophthalmia neonatorum, which is caused by bacteria. This must be treated immediately to avoid permanent damage to the eyes.

Bacterial and viral pink eye infections are highly contagious, may affect one or both eyes and may spread through direct and indirect contact.

Allergic conjunctivitis
This occurs when the body produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) responding to an allergen such as pollen. This substance triggers the mucous lining in the eyes, causing inflammation. It affects both eyes. Some symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include intense itching, tearing, and inflammation of the eyes, accompanied by sneezing and watery nasal discharge. Allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious and can be managed using allergy eye drops.

Irritation-related conjunctivitis
Irritation from foreign objects or a chemical splash may also trigger pink eye. In some cases, flushing or cleaning the eye can help remove the chemical or object causing the inflammation. One may experience watery eyes or a mucus discharge that may clear up within a day. If flushing doesn’t resolve the problem, visiting an eye specialist as soon as possible may be advisable. Some chemicals may also permanently damage vision.
When pink eye is triggered by long-term use of contacts or an artificial eye, it is known as giant papillary conjunctivitis. Doctors believe it results from an allergic reaction to a chronic foreign object in the eye.

How are pink eyes treated?
The treatment for pink eye depends on the underlying cause.

For viruses
These are often a result of the same virus that causes common colds. Letting it run its course is essential, as the issue will resolve itself in 4-7 days. Since pink eye caused by the virus is highly contagious, one needs to take several precautions to control its spread.
Pink eye caused by the herpes virus, however, can be extremely dangerous and may require immediate medical attention.

For bacteria
In case of bacterial infections, doctors may prescribe a treatment, such as eye drops or ointments, based on the severity.

For irritants
If an external object caused the pink eye, rinsing the eyes should help resolve the problem within four hours. In case of exposure to bleach or other acid or alkaline substances, medical intervention may be necessary.

Practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands often, keeping the eyes clean, washing or changing the pillowcase daily, or using a warm compress, can help alleviate symptoms of pink eye at home.