Pink eye is the common non-medical term used for an eye condition known as ‘conjunctivitis’. This is the inflammation of the transparent layer overlying the white part of eye and the inner part of the eyelids. This inflammation leads to redness of the eye.
- Infection: Most common are viruses, bacteria, fungus and rarely, parasites
- Allergies: Most common is pollen, dust, mould and smoke
- Chemical: Including swimming pool chlorine, eye make-up, sprays, household cleaners, industrial chemicals and tear gas
- Sign of another disease such as lupus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel (intestine) diseases.
- Dry eyes due to reduced tear production.
- Itchy eyes
- Redness of the eye
- Gritty feeling in the eye
- Puffy eyelids
- Increased tearing
- Sensitivity to light
- Sticky discharge from the eye (especially after sleeping) in cases of infection
- Blurred vision (this is a danger sign which warrants immediate medical attention)
- Eye pain (also needs immediate medical attention)
How can you tell them apart?
Infectious conjunctivitis: Usually associated with discharge. Viral pink eye has a watery discharge while bacterial pink eye has a thick creamish discharge which causes the eyelids to stick to each other.
Viral pink eye may occur in the same setting as a common cold. You could also have swollen nodes in front of the ears. Infections of the eye are highly contagious.
Allergic conjunctivitis: Usually associated with itchy sensation in the throat, runny nose and very itchy eyes. Some people even develop dark circles round their eyes.
Chemical conjunctivitis: Usually occurs on exposure to chemicals listed above and cause immediate irritation.
Infectious conjunctivitis: Since most infections are caused by viruses, they run a natural course of about 7-10 days without treatment and often do not leave any complications. Bacteria usually need antibiotic drops to clear them.
Allergic conjunctivitis: Needs anti-histamines and sometimes even steroid eye drops used only when necessary
Chemical conjunctivitis: Immediately wash out offending chemical with clean water
Dry eyes: Use artificial tear drops to moisten the eye.
Most newborns with sticky eye discharge usually get it from the mother’s birth canal during delivery. They can even pick up sexually-transmitted organisms such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and even herpes in this manner.
Some of these organisms can even lead to vision loss if not well treated. It is therefore important that all abnormal genital discharges be treated before childbirth. Make sure that your gynaecologist knows about any unusual vaginal discharge and takes care of it before you deliver.
Most hospitals even give antibiotic eye ointment to all babies born through normal delivery to prevent infections transmitted in this manner.
Conjunctivitis or blocked tear duct?
Sometimes a newborn baby may tear consistently from one eye. This type of tearing may appear like an infection (and may even get treated as such with no improvement). This is because such watery eyes are due to a blocked tear duct (poor tear drainage system). It usually opens up with time in most cases.
Good hygiene can help prevent the spread of conjunctivitis:
- Change pillowcases frequently (if your pink eye is due to infection, wash and change your pillowcase daily until infection clears).
- Do not share towels or handkerchiefs. Use disposable paper towels whenever possible.
- Make it a general rule to always keep your hands away from the eyes.
- Handle and clean contact lenses properly.
- Do not wear contact lenses if you have infectious or chemical pink eye until the problem clears.
- Replace eye cosmetics regularly. Discard any make-up you have at the time you develop pink eye.
- Do not share eye make up.
- Wash your hands often.
- Shared computer keyboards can harbour lots of germs that could get into your eyes and cause pink eye. Therefore avoid putting your hands on your face when working on a shared keyboard – especially if one of the users has a cold or the flu.
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