Cold and flu season has been especially brutal this winter.
Not only has the 2017-18 strain of influenza been causing historic amounts of hospitalizations and deaths, but the average family has also felt the relentless battering of an array of other illnesses. Pink eye— no exception— is making its rounds.
Pink eye. These two words are generally regarded with leprous horror. But, funny enough, most people have little clue what this ailment is— beyond its notorious contagion and the obvious symptom it is named after: pink eye.
Pink eye is actually not a medical term— it is slang used to describe conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the thin, clear layer of tissue that covers the visible portion of your eye. It can affect one or both eyes, and it is a blanket term used for a wide number of causes.
Most often, conjunctivitis occurs due to allergies, bacteria, or viruses.
So, is it contagious?
When your child wakes up one morning with a frightening, reddened eye- perhaps even sealed shut with goopy discharge- you can most likely assume that the cause is either bacterial or viral. These types of pink eye are most common- especially in children- and are spread easily through daycares and schools.
So while your child should be kept home, they should not be isolated any longer than if they had contracted the common cold. In fact, often times pink eye is the common cold that has just spread to the eye. Usually, the infection takes place through hand-to-eye contact, but when one is sick, it can also travel from their own sinuses into the eye.
If the inflammation is caused by allergies, it will typically be accompanied by itching, puffy eye lids, or a burning sensation. This type of conjunctivitis is not contagious. The best way to ward off allergic inflammation is to find and remove the source of allergies— whether seasonal, animal, or chemical.
Is it serious?
As mentioned above, pink eye is ample reason to stay home from work or school, to avoid the spreading of germs. But it is probably not worth all the panic that many feel upon discovering their inflamed eye, or hearing about an “outbreak” in their child’s classroom.
Your local optometrist is familiar with this common eye ailment, and if you call in, will most likely schedule an office visit to evaluate specifically what type of pink eye you have and advise you on the proper treatment.. They would definitely rather have you phone in your concerns, than to scan the internet for remedies that may do more harm than good.
Viral conjunctivitis will almost always resolve itself within a week or two. Your eye doctor may want to check the eye, however, if symptoms are severe or if they are not improving within a few days. In some cases of bacterial pink eye, they may prescribe an antibiotic eye drop. Allergy-induced pink eye can also be alleviated with moistening eye drops from your eye doctor. Certain less common types of pink eye can be serious and sight threatening so it is always best to consult with your eye doctor.
How do we stop the spread of pink eye?
The same hygienic practices that you have hopefully been practicing this cold and flu season, will help ward off the inconvenience of pink eye. Wash your hands often, and remember that bacteria lives in all sorts of places. Using fresh towels to wash your face and keeping your contact lenses clean can reduce your chances of getting bacterial pink eye.
Depending on the cause of conjunctivitis, those who have been infected should stay away from school and the workplace for anywhere from a couple days to a week. While the eye is pink or producing discharge, it is still highly contagious. After the symptoms have gone, contact lenses should be replaced and a new contact lens container should be used. Also, any makeup used during the illness should be discarded.
Pink eye may be a pesky addition to the list of illnesses to worry about, this winter, but understanding conjunctivitis can help prevent and treat it more effectively. It can also dismantle terrifying stigmas that keep you lying awake at night.
If anyone in your family develops pink eye, don’t hesitate to call your eye doctor!