If you or your child has an itchy eye that’s red and irritated, knowing the difference between pink eye, (also called conjunctivitis), and a simple allergy or irritant can be crucial. Pink eye spreads extremely easily and knowing the difference could help you identify and address an infection before it gets worse or spreads to others.
What is Pink Eye and How to Identify
Pink eye, medically known as conjunctivitis, entails the inflammation of the conjunctiva, the transparent whitish membrane over the eyes. This inflames the blood vessels of the conjunctiva, causing a reddish or pinkish coloring in the whites of the eyes. Human eyes are very sensitive and may redden due to various types of irritation. Causes can include bacteria, viruses, fungi, toxic or allergic insults.
Pink eye has a few unique symptoms:
- Pink eye can affect one or both eyes. Allergies and other airborne eye irritants typically affect both eyes at once, (but conjunctivitis is an infection that may only affect one eye—this fragment seems unnecessary).
- Redness from pink eye typically causes an itchy or gritty feeling in the affected eyes.
- Conjunctivitis often causes excessive tearing.
- Pink eye causes a crust to form over the eyelashes of the affected eyes, especially during sleep. This may actually cause the eyelid to feel “glued” shut upon waking, requiring cleaning before the person can open the affected eye.
- Pink eye, when caused by bacteria, will have a thick, purulent drainage that can be white, green or yellow.
Prevention and Treatment for Conjunctivitis
Several home remedies can alleviate the symptoms of pink eye, such as using a warm compress over the affected eye to reduce itchiness and swelling, removing contact lenses, and proper hygiene. Depending on the type of conjunctivitis a person has, these remedies may help overcome symptoms. However, some types of conjunctivitis will require medical intervention. If pink eye causes pain, fever, or changes in vision, the affected individual should seek medical care immediately.
Conjunctivitis symptoms can appear due to allergies or exposure to some airborne irritants, such as smoke or chemical fumes. In most cases, symptoms will subside after moving away from the source of the irritation and proper cleaning. People who suffer from allergic conjunctivitis often find relief from over-the-counter allergy medications such as antihistamines For example, taking a shower after spending time outdoors and using antihistamines may alleviate the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis from pollen exposure outdoors.
For other types of conjunctivitis caused by viruses and bacteria, help from a doctor may be necessary for symptoms to improve. You should also take steps to prevent the spread of viral or bacterial conjunctivitis as they are extremely contagious. Replace any bedding and pillowcases used by the person with pink eye and have everyone in the home refrain from touching their eyes. Frequent handwashing can also help stop the spread of the viruses and bacteria that can cause conjunctivitis.
For more information on pink eye visit: https://www.cdc.gov/features/conjunctivitis/index.html.
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