Conjunctivitis, commonly known as Pink Eye, is an inflammation or swelling of the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid (conjunctiva). Pink Eye is extremely common, especially in children, and is highly contagious. It is usually a minor infection, but can affect one or both eyes, and can develop into a more serious problem if left untreated. Symptoms of Pink Eye often include itching, burning or "gritty" feeling, excessive tearing, discharge, swollen eyelids, pink discoloration to the whites of the eye, and increased sensitivity to light.
Pink Eye can be allergic, infectious or chemical, and treatment is dependent on the cause. Allergic Conjunctivitis can be caused by seasonal allergies when a person encounters triggering allergen. It can also be attributed to the chronic presence of a foreign body in the eye, such as contact lenses or a prosthetic. Treatment of allergic conjunctivitis starts with removing the irritant, then use of cool compresses and artificial tears may be recommended. If these treatments are not effective, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and antihistamines, or, in more severe cases, topical steroid drops may be prescribed.
Infectious Conjunctivitis can be bacterial, caused most often by staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria, or viral. Bacterial Conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments, but no drops or ointments can treat Viral Conjunctivitis. Like a common cold, viral Pink Eye will run its course over two to three weeks. Symptoms can be relieved with warm compresses and artificial tears.
Chemical Conjunctivitis can be caused by irritants like pollution, chlorine or exposure to other noxious chemicals. Treatment starts with a flushing of the eyes with saline, and topical steroids may be prescribed. Severe chemical injury can lead to scarring, vision damage and even loss of the eye, so if you have experienced a chemical spill affecting your eyes, flush for several minutes, then call your doctor immediately.