A red eye with a watery discharge are key features in viral conjunctivitis
Given the number of colds and viral infections this season, I’ve seen a lot of pink eye. Some of my friends and people I work with have even caught pink eye, or viral conjunctivitis.
The term conjunctivitis refers to inflammation of the thin membrane that covers the white part of your eye and the insides of your eyelids. It has a lot of tiny blood vessels that become swollen and more noticeable when the conjunctiva becomes irritated. This makes it look pink.
What causes it?
Pink eye is often caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold and it’s very contagious. (You probably already know that if you’ve ever had pink eye.) Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis can last from a few days to two weeks. Fortunately, the symptoms will disappear on their own. You can use cool compresses or artificial tears that have been chilled in your fridge (my favorite) to help relieve some of the symptoms while you are waiting for it to go away. These typically are the only treatments that are necessary. Rarely, a severe case of pink eye can benefit from anti-inflammatory drops prescribed by an ophthalmologist. Contrary to popular belief, antibiotic eyedrops and urine do not cure viral conjunctivitis.
How do you get it?
Since pink eye is very contagious, you can get it by:
Forgetting to wash your hands often and touching your eyes
Reusing tissues and towels when wiping your face and eyes
Not cleaning your contact lenses properly and using poorly fitting contact lenses or decorative contacts
Children are very susceptible to getting pink eye because they are in close contact with so many others in school or day care centers.
Signs of pink eye
Crusty eyelids and watery eyes with a light discharge is likely. You can also have eyelid swelling, a foreign body sensation, eye irritation, itchiness, blurry vision, and your eyes glued shut in the morning from the goop.
While pink eye usually starts in only one eye, it commonly spreads to the other eye.
What you can do to prevent it
Practicing good hygiene can help prevent the spread of infectious conjunctivitis. You should:
Wash your hands often
Avoid touching your eyes and face
Don’t share towels, washcloths, or pillows
Replace your eye makeup regularly with new ones, and also do not share them
Always clean your contact lenses properly
How long are you contagious for?
The general rule is that if you have symptoms of pink eye and a watery discharge, you are contagious. So try not to infect others. Let the infection run its course and you will be back to school or work within a few days to a few weeks.