Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is a generic term that simply means inflammation or irritation of the inside linings of the eyelids or the surface of the eye.
Often infectious, pink eye has many different causes of pink eye — some of which do not need to be treated.
What most people think of when they hear “pink eye”: an eye infection caused by bacteria. This usually produces a heavy, crusty discharge from one or both eyes, is most certainly contagious, and can be helped by antibacterial eye drops.
Also infectious and contagious, but because it’s caused by a virus, antibiotic eye drops will NOT help fix this. Discharge is typically lighter or more watery, and will resolve on its own in a few days to weeks.
Caused by allergies, not infection, so not contagious. Antibiotic eye drops won’t help, but allergy eye drops may. This usually affects both eyes, and main symptoms for children tend to be tearing and itching.
Caused by irritation from dirt, sand, dust, smoke, trauma, etc. Usually associated with tearing. May even be painful in more severe cases.
There are some things you can do to help deal with pink eye at home. Infectious pink eye is spread by contact, so avoid touching eyes (good advice for both your child and you). Good hand washing will help as well. Cold compresses can help with the itching and swelling, and warm compresses can help soften and remove crusting in the lashes.
When to Call Us
Because there are many different causes of pink eye, each with its own unique treatment, it’s often difficult to diagnose and treat properly just over the phone. Reasons to be seen in the office for closer evaluation include:
- Worsening drainage or discharge from the eye
- Fever in addition to pink eye
- Blistering or rash on the eyelids
- Severe light sensitivity or pain
- Vision problems
- Any injury to the eye
- Symptoms that do not improve within a week.
Dr. Albert Wolf, a proud Kids Plus Doc since 2000, is a Shareholder and Chief Financial Officer of the practice.