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Pink Eye and Eye Infections

What is Pink Eye?

Pink eye is a common eye infection. It is often accompanied by discomfort, redness, and, sometimes, discharge. This condition occurs when the conjunctiva, the membrane that lines your eyelid, becomes inflamed and infected, causing the white of your eye to turn a pink/red color. 

 

Pink eye can last anywhere from 7 to 14 days without treatment. This eye infection affects all ages but is especially common in children. If an infant suffers an eye infection, the whites of the eyes become reddish or pink, often caused by irritation or blocked tear ducts. Pink eye in babies usually occurs after another illness like a common cold or throat infection. It sometimes heals on its own but can require treatment if it continues for more than a few days.

If your child is diagnosed with pink eye, it can be challenging to get rid of it. Eye infections are highly contagious and very common in kids. Pink eye brings a lot of eye discomfort and itching, which often results in rubbing and touching the area. Therefore, the most effective way to avoid pink eye is to maintain proper hand hygiene.

Eye infections can be either viral or bacterial. Medication can significantly shorten the duration of eye infections. Most treatments begin working within twenty-four hours. In addition, there are various home remedies available that help to treat eye infections effectively. Read on to learn more about the causes and management of this common health problem.

Pathophysiology and Risk Factors

Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the delicate mucous membrane of the eye. This inflammation results from infection, either viral, bacterial, and allergic reaction, or other sources of irritation. This leads to the defining characteristic of this disease, the "pink" eye. The whites of the affected eye(s) become reddish or pink due to swelling of the small blood vessels just under the eye surface.

Several key risk factors can increase your likelihood of developing pink eye:

  • Exposure to an infected individual
  • Wearing contacts for an extended period 
  • Allergies that cause you to touch your eyes
  • Poor hand hygiene 
  • Eye injury
  • Eye makeup use, especially use of old makeup

Signs and Symptoms

Infections can occur in one eye or both eyes simultaneously. In addition to pink coloration in the white sclera, common symptoms of pink eye are pain, itchiness, discharge, and crustiness. You may also have a sandy/gritty feeling in the affected eye(s). 

Viral infections are likely to be accompanied by symptoms that resemble a common cold, such as watery eyes and a sore throat. Bacterial conjunctivitis often co-occurs with an ear infection. Allergic conjunctivitis is associated with eye itching. There may also be other signs of allergy, such as asthma or eczema.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, speak with one of our online doctors now to find relief and healing.

Diagnosis

Eye infections are often easy to diagnose based on a physical exam. Your doctor will look at the affected eye(s), along with any other symptoms you may have to determine whether your conjunctivitis is bacterial, viral, or allergic. 

Eye infections almost always involve redness of the eye and swelling, but your other symptoms may help your doctor deduce the underlying cause. For this reason, it is important to accurately share as much information as possible with your healthcare provider.

As this condition is relatively easy to recognize based on its characteristic appearance, additional testing is rarely needed. If you have a complicated or recurrent infection, your doctor may refer you to an optometrist or ophthalmologist for specialized care.

Treatment

If you have pink eye or another eye infection, you are probably anxious to get relief from your symptoms. Most at-home remedies focus on reducing inflammation to help with pain, redness, and swelling. 

For self-treatment, artificial tears, cleaning the eyelids, and frequently using warm compresses on the eye(s) several times per day can be helpful. If you wear contact lenses, avoid using them until the infection has cleared up. In addition, rinsing the infected eye(s) with saline solution can assist in cleaning the area and removing any discharge or debris.

Some people also report that using tea bags for eye infections can provide relief and healing. To try this remedy, place cool, moist tea bags on your closed eyes. Many teas have anti-inflammatory or other therapeutic properties.

Because of the contagious nature of pink eye and other ocular infections, taking steps to reduce spread is essential. Wash your linens in hot water to kill any germs. Good hand hygiene is also vital to avoid transmission, so wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes.

If your symptoms do not improve or worsen with at-home treatment, your doctor can prescribe antibiotic eye drops to help clear your infection. Improvement is usually noticeable within 24 hours of starting use. In the case of allergic causes, an antihistamine eye drop may be helpful to control your symptoms. Your doctor may also recommend numbing eye drops or over-the-counter pain relievers to help soothe any discomfort.

Prognosis

Most of the time, pink eye and other eye infections are mild and resolve within two weeks, either on their own or with treatment. If your doctor gives you a prescription eye drop, you will probably start feeling better within 24 hours of use. Vision is not usually affected by eye infections, and long-term complications are rare. 

While eye infections and pink eye are usually not serious, they can be uncomfortable and can become severe if left untreated. If you suspect you have an eye infection, talk with one of our online doctors now to address your symptoms and start feeling better!

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Dr. Charlene Browne
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